New cameras will ticket drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses in Montgomery

First there were automated tickets for drivers who run red lights or speed. Now, cameras will be installed on school buses in Montgomery County to catch motorists who illegally pass buses letting children on and off.

Montgomery police officials said Thursday their goal is to have the first 25 cameras installed on Montgomery school buses by Jan. 3. It was unclear when ticketing will start but fines have been set at $125.

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Before enforcement begins, a public education campaign will be rolled out in early December to increase awareness about laws against passing school buses when their stop arms swing out and their lights are flashing.

“It’s just astounding to me how many drivers don’t know the rules of the road,” said Montgomery County Council Member Valerie Ervin (D-Eastern County), at a joint meeting of the council’s education and public safety committees Thursday. “I see it all the time.”

A state survey released in August provided a one-day snapshot of violations across Maryland, and Montgomery, the largest school system, stood out with 1,078 drivers failing to halt for working school buses.

The idea behind automated enforcement is to protect kids, officials said. Revenue from citations may not be enough to cover the cost of the program.

“It’s not about how much money we make,” said Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger. “It’s about making the roads safer.”

Montgomery’s school bus fleet includes 1,120 vehicles on the road each day, so the 25-camera debut would be a modest beginning — targeting routes where drivers have noticed particular problems.

Another 75 Montgomery school buses will be wired for cameras, so that cameras may be moved among priority routes. Officials are leaving open the possibility of buying additional cameras.

Manger said Thursday that the project, approved last year, was delayed as police officials sought to explore what other jurisdictions were doing.

Montgomery provides transportation for about 100,000 of its 151,000 students. In the past seven or eight years, two or three students have been injured by passing motorists, school officials have said.

Cameras are already installed on about 300 Montgomery buses, and violators caught on video now receive warning letters from police.

The new cameras take enforcement a step further.

“We are here to change the behavior,” said Angel E. Garcia-Ablanque, the assistant director of transportation for Montgomery schools.

The police department’s website currently shows the location of red light and speeding cameras, and Manger said similar disclosures would be made about school bus enforcement areas.

 
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