Raleigh, N.C. — Cameras on school buses catch cars blowing past stopped buses at an alarming rate across North Carolina, and state lawmakers are looking to give school districts a way to crack down on violators.
Senate Bill 55, which is one step away from a floor vote, would allow counties to adopt ordinances imposing civil penalties for passing a stopped school bus when the violation isn't criminally prosecuted.
Video from school bus cameras would be used to note the tag numbers of offending vehicles – similar to red light cameras that operate in Raleigh and other cities – and citations would then be sent to the vehicle owners. The tickets would carry a $400 fine for a first offense, $750 for a second offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.
"Our kids are at stake," said Ben Matthews, deputy chief financial officer for operations for the state Department of Public Instruction.
Matthews said cameras caught close to 3,200 cars passing about 1,600 stopped buses on one day.
"Just think what it would be if we checked every day," he said, adding that only a fraction of the 13,000 school buses statewide are equipped with cameras.
Seven children have been killed by North Carolina drivers who failed to stop for stopped school buses since 2009.
"We have tried everything we can to stop this," Matthews said. "We’ve put hand signals for the drivers out to the kids. We’ve tried increasing the training of kids to look both ways before you cross the road."
Kristin Crist, a Wake County mother, said hitting drivers in the wallet should help change behaviors.
"Anytime fines are imposed, people start to listen," Crist said. "I don’t see any reason for people to be in such a rush that they need to go by a school bus and put children, drivers, parents in jeopardy."
"I'm sure it'll have some effect because no one wants to get ticketed for anything," driver Marshall Nixon said.