Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Manassas City Public Schools’ executive director of finance and operations. He is Andy Hawkins.
The Manassas City public school system has equipped its bus fleet with cameras aimed at catching motorists who illegally pass the buses as they load and unload young passengers, a violation school officials say poses serious danger to students.
The cameras, now on the school system’s 60 buses, activate when the school bus deploys its stop arm. If a motorist passes the school bus while a stop arm is out, the camera will capture footage of the car. Police will review the footage and can send a summons, which comes with a $250 fine, to the driver’s home.
School officials said bus drivers have long complained about motorists who illegally go around stopped buses, said Andy Hawkins, the district’s executive director of finance and operations.
“We’ve had a lot of complaints from bus drivers in the community talking about the number of people who pass the school buses with the stop arm out,” Hawkins said. “We’re just trying to add another layer of protection for our students.”
The cameras are especially critical in Manassas City, where buses share arterial roads with a daily flood of fast-moving commuters, officials said. “Several of our bus routes are on major thoroughfares,” said Manassas Police Lt. Bill Hutchinson. “It’s extremely crowded with people traveling to and from Northern Virginia.”
The camera systems are growing in popularity as school districts seek ways to deter motorists from endangering youths. School buses in Arlington, Falls Church and Montgomery County have stop-arm cameras.
The problem appears to be on the rise in Maryland: A study estimated that the number of drivers illegally passing school buses was up 50 percent from the previous year. And the consequences are serious: A kindergartner in Roanoke was struck by a car while crossing the road to board a bus Monday, according to police and school officials. The girl was expected to survive, and the driver was cited for failing to stop for a school bus.
Arlington and Falls Church were forced to halt their programs last year after Virginia’s attorney general ruled that the citations had to be hand-delivered — rather than mailed — to drivers, which would have been too cumbersome. The law was changed earlier this year to allow police to mail the citations.
Without the cameras, police have had difficulty enforcing laws banning drivers from maneuvering around stopped buses. Even when an officer catches a motorist in the act, the officer also has to pass the school bus to pursue the violator, potentially putting students at risk.
The Manassas City Police Department, which administers the system, hopes to have it fully activated by mid-October. For the first month, police will issue warning tickets to violators.
The camera system in Manassas was installed by Force Multiplier Inc. and was free of charge to the school district. The company will collect 60 percent of fine revenue collected from bus camera citations, and the rest will go to the district.
The company also installed cameras in school buses that give school transportation officials a live view of the buses and panic buttons for drivers that will alert school transportation staff and police when there is a problem. The system also allows school transportation staff to deliver messages over buses’ public announcement systems remotely.