SPRINGFIELD — A snapshot of a school bus safety tool that launched last spring shows considerable success and reasons for lingering concern.
Since the Effingham County School District employed the Bus Patrol camera system in April 2019, more than 226 citations for stop-arm violations have been issued.
During the Feb. 5 Effingham County Board of Education meeting, Transportation Coordinator Brett Martin reported that the infractions occurred in 21 unique locations. Most were on Ga. Hwy 21, Ga. Hwy 80, Ga. Hwy 17 and McCall Road.
“And this is out of three buses,” Martin said.
Stop-arm violations are a major concern for Martin. He supervises a system that includes 125 buses that rack up more than one million miles a year while transporting nearly 8,000 students a day.
“... it’s an epidemic that not only Effingham County is dealing with, but all the counties around the nation,” Martin said.
The Effingham County School District currently has only three Bus Patrol cameras, which capture images of stop-arm violators. The devices are easily transferrable, however, making it simple to spread their impact by targeting problem areas.
Martin is baffled as to why so many drivers ignore stop arms, which feature flashing red lights to signal that students are about to enter or exit a bus.
“Fortunately, we’ve been blessed and our drivers do a good job,” he said. “Not only do we utilize the stop arms, we also do our best to train the kids who do have to cross roads to follow hand signals,” he said. “They make sure that the traffic is stopped even before they give them the hand signal to cross.”
During his presentation, Martin During his presentation, Martin played a few video clips of stop-arm violations in Effingham County. The board and audience members gasped at the sight of vehicles speeding past stopped buses with students nearby.
Martin said one of the leading reasons for stop-arm violations is a lack of understanding of the stop-arm law. When Bus Patrol was launched, he said, ““On a multilane highway, if it has a divided median such as a grass barrier or a concrete barrier, only the individuals on the same side of the road as the school bus need to stop,. However, on the multilane highway with just a turning lane and no physical barrier, all sides need to stop. Downtown Rincon (on Columbia Avenue) is a good example of that.
“Traffic in downtown Rincon needs to stop in both directions for school buses loading or unloading students.”
The Effingham County School District and the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office have agreed to work together to achieve the goal of decreasing the risk of harm to students on school buses by increasing community awareness, implementing smart-bus technology available through the Bus Patrol program and fully punishing violations of stop-arm laws.
For the first offense, violators caught by a Bus Patrol camera will be issued a $250 school bus monitoring citation as well as a photo and video of the incident. The offender then has the right to pay the citation or request a hearing.
Those who are cited a second time will face higher fines as well as points against their driver’s license.
“I don’t know what it’s going to take to improve this other than continue to do what we are doing here and try to get the word out with Facebook posts that we’ve shared,” Martin said. “I wish the state as a whole, besides “Click It or Ticket” and “Don’t Drink and Drive,” would get this (message about bus safety) out.”
Martin noted that Georgia’s driver’s license exam features one question about how to approach school buses.
“I think education is the biggest thing and, hopefully, a $250 fine will be a deterrent and we will start to see these numbers decrease as we progress. It costs $250 if you are lucky enough to get caught by (Bus Patrol) and it’s going to cost between $750 and $1,200 if you get stopped by (the Georgia State Patrol) or another law enforcement officer.”
Troy Alford, the board’s District 2 member, asked Martin how the board could help educate increase awareness of the problem. He suggested publishing photos of violators in the media.
In April 2019, Katie Sharkey of Bus Patrol said the program was introduced in Georgia in 2012 thanks to the help of the transportation and school bus industries. It has proven to work well, she said.
“It showed that it decreases violations by over 35 percent in the first year of the program alone,” she said. “It also shows that less than one or two percent get a second ticket. So it actually does prove effective in teaching and curbing bad driver behavior.
“That’s the whole point of the program — to teach the driver and safe a child’s life.”