A new state law will permit Arlington County and the city of Falls Church to reactivate enforcement cameras on their school buses, which help snag motorists who illegally pass stopped school buses. The violation, which school officials say endangers young people as they get on and off of school buses, is difficult for police to monitor because of the volume of buses and because pursuing offenders can put children at risk.
The school districts suspended their bus camera programs in October after Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) wrote an opinion saying that police did not have the authority to mail summonses based on evidence from the cameras. The opinion did not bar school districts from using the cameras, but it would have forced police to deliver the summonses — which carried a $250 fine — by hand. That proved too much of a burden for Falls Church and Arlington, and both jurisdictions opted to turn their cameras off.
But a new state law allows police to issue the summonses by mail. Falls Church and Arlington plan to restart the programs July 1, the day the law takes effect. Other school districts also are looking into starting school bus camera programs.
David A. LaRock (R-Loudoun), who sponsored the House version of the bill, said the programs are important for school bus safety.
“Obviously, the safety and welfare of kids coming and going from school buses is really the fundamental need we wanted to deal with by addressing the aspect of the bill that made it impractical to enforce,” LaRock said.
School bus camera programs are being used across the country to curb a driving violation that puts children at risk. In many places, police have to witness the violation and also have to pass the school bus to pull over the driver, which could further endanger young passengers.
Nancy Hendrickson, Falls Church City Public Schools’ transportation director, said school bus drivers saw an increase in violations after the program was suspended in the fall.
“We’re definitely seeing a much higher level of violations,” Hendrickson said. She expected them to drop again once offenders start getting $250 tickets in the mail.
The programs often work in partnership with private companies that furnish and manage the equipment for free, send the footage to police departments and take a cut of the revenue. Red-light camera programs use similar arrangements with private companies.
The company that runs the school bus cameras in Falls Church City does not access driver information, said Falls Church City Police spokeswoman Susan Finarelli. Police run the license plate numbers of violators caught on camera through the DMV system to identify them, so the company never has to access the database, Finarelli said.
School officials in Albemarle County, Va., became interested in getting the cameras after a study estimated that 6,000 motorists passed stopped school buses annually in the county. But despite the new law, the school district’s attorney is concerned about sharing driver information with a third party, which is not expressly permitted under the law, said Phil Giaramita, a spokesman for Albemarle public schools.
Arlington County schools spokesman Frank Bellavia said he is uncertain whether the program’s vendor, American Traffic Solutions, accesses driver information when it records violations. He said that is being reviewed by county attorneys.
This story has been updated.