Just as Arlington school bus driver Daniel Roseboro was explaining the necessity of cameras to catch motorists illegally passing his bus, an SUV rolled by one in front of Wakefield High School, bolstering his argument.
“Like that one right there,” Roseboro said. Although the bus was empty, its flashers were on and two folding stop signs were deployed — signals that require drivers to stop and wait as a safety precaution to protect children.
School officials stationed the bus in front of Wakefield on Wednesday to demonstrate how the special cameras work. Mounted in two places on the side of the bus, the cameras activate when the bus stops and deploys its stop signs and flashers. They can catch multiple views of a passing car and send the video to the police department, which will review the footage and send a citation to the vehicle’s owner.
In Virginia, motorists are prohibited from passing stopped school buses in both directions unless they are heading the opposite direction on a divided highway.
Eight camera-equipped buses hit the road Tuesday. For now, motorists who are seen on camera breaking the rules will receive a warning in the mail. But starting Sept. 8 — the first day of school in Arlington — violators will receive a $250 ticket.
During a pilot program in Montgomery County early last year, the cameras caught hundreds of violators. In Arlington, 236 motorists were cited for passing stopped buses during the past school year, but drivers say that almost daily, they see such violations go unpunished.
The cameras and equipment, which American Traffic Solutions will supply, are slated to be installed on 20 buses by the start of the school year. The cameras will not cost the school district anything, but 60 percent of the revenue from the fines will go to the company. The remainder will go to the school district for safety initiatives.
Charles Territo, a spokesman for American Traffic Solutions, said his company’s cameras have been installed on school buses in 30 districts across the country, including in Falls Church. He said the laws that prohibit motorists from passing school buses are difficult to enforce: Once a motorist illegally passes a stopped bus, an officer pursuing the violator would also have to pass the bus, potentially putting young passengers crossing the street at risk.
“It provides police with all of the tools and all of the technology to catch a violation . . . and does so in a manner that’s safe not only for the student, but for the officer as well,” Territo said.
Hector Giron, who has been driving school buses for 15 years, said motorists illegally pass his bus at least once a day during the school year. He drives a bus for special-needs students, and it takes him longer to unload riders, many of whom use wheelchairs.
Because motorists are rarely penalized for driving around buses, he said, there’s little deterring them. Parents will sometimes take matters into their own hands and stand in the street to stop traffic.
“They don’t see anything happen, so they don’t care,” Giron said of the drivers.
David McCrae, the school system’s transportation director, said he hopes that the program will make motorists more vigilant when they drive near a school bus.
“If it can raise that kind of awareness, then it’s worth it,” he said.