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Cameras to keep watch on drivers
High-tech system will catch cars passing stopped school buses
bus stop 2
School children walk in front of a stopped school bus Thursday morning. Drivers who pass stopped school buses could find themselves caught on camera, thanks to an agreement between the Effingham County Board of Education and a company that will install cameras on school buses for free. - photo by Photo by Paul Floeckher

Drivers who illegally pass school buses in Effingham County soon will be caught on camera.

The Effingham County Board of Education on Wednesday unanimously approved an agreement with CrossSafe Services to equip some of the county’s school buses with exterior cameras.

The school board also approved an intergovernmental agreement with Effingham County for the solicitor’s and sheriff’s office’s participation.

“It’s a pretty big problem. I see it a lot,” County Commissioner Phil Kieffer said of cars passing school buses that are stopped to pick up or drop off students.

School district transportation coordinator Jimmy Helmly told the school board earlier this year that Effingham County is seeing a dramatic increase in drivers not stopping for school buses. He referenced a day last year that state officials chose to document bus stop violations across Georgia, and Effingham County bus drivers reported 33 violations on that day alone.

The school district had similar results last fall when it conducted a test run of the school bus cameras, according to Superintendent Randy Shearouse.

“We actually had several people who ran some of our bus stop signs, which is really scary when you think about it,” Shearouse said.

The small cameras will be installed on the sides of buses, just below the stop sign. No camera components will be inside the bus and no pictures will be taken of students on the bus.

The camera is active anytime the bus engine is running, and a motion sensor activates the camera to record still photos and a video clip of any car approaching and passing the bus. A ticket for a violation is mailed to the owner of the vehicle.

The cameras will not cost the school district or the county any money. CrossSafe will install and maintain the cameras, and recoup its investment by receiving a portion of the fines from the tickets.

“It’s an opportunity to make students in school buses safer without really costing the county any money,” said Myron Henry, Georgia account executive for CrossSafe.

Under the contract, CrossSafe will receive $135 from a driver’s first ticket and $160 for all subsequent violations by the same person.

The board of education will collect $50 from each ticket. Shearouse recommended giving that money to the sheriff’s office toward expenses for the school resource officers the ECSO provides.

“I’m not saying it would defray our total cost (for school resource officers). I’m just saying it would help with some of their equipment and so forth that they need to have,” he said.

Once CrossSafe and the school board receive their portions from a ticket, the county collects the remaining amount. Effingham County Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie said the camera system is much more cost-effective than having deputies riding on and following buses to catch drivers who don’t obey the stop sign.

“We would have someone on the school bus, and then we would have a ‘catch car’ – one in front of the bus and one behind it. It would tie up three deputies,” McDuffie said. “This eliminates the manpower issues we have.”

McDuffie and County Administrator David Crawley both said that several counties are using school bus cameras, with positive results.

“Everybody I’ve talked to who has it in place now says it’s the best thing they’ve seen in a long time,” McDuffie said.

Ten of Effingham County’s 122 school buses will have cameras, Shearouse said. They will be installed sometime after the first of the year.

Helmly will decide which routes will have the bus cameras based on where drivers have reported the most problems with drivers passing stopped buses. The cameras could be rotated to other buses if necessary.

“There are certain routes that you have more problems than others,” Shearouse said, “so we want to start out with those routes and hopefully curb any problems there. Then we can move it on to other places that we are still having some problems.”

The Georgia Legislature approved the use of exterior school bus cameras in 2011 under Senate Bill 57. The penalties are $300 for the first offense, $750 for a second offense and $1,000 for any more violations in a five-year period.

“(The fines) are pretty high in some cases, but it’s a very dangerous situation where you have cars running bus stops,” Shearouse said.