The cameras used to capture the video above this article, are mounted on the outside of buses. As of last June, law enforcement in South Carolina can use those images to prosecute drivers who illegally pass a stopped school bus. So far, school districts are hesitant to make the investment in the exterior cameras.
The Charleston County School District is not even considering them at this point. Curtis Norman, the CCSD Director of Transportation said, he rarely gets reports of violations, and “the expense is enormous”.
Dorchester District II’s spokeswoman Pat Raynor, also said the cameras are not on the district’s radar at this point.
“Of course, as you can imagine there are no funds available for those cameras at this time”, Raynor said.
Berkeley County is the only Lowcountry District moving toward adding those cameras.
“I get reports [of people illegally passing stopped buses] every day,” said Wes Fleming, the BCSD director of transportation. “It’s a major hazard and hopefully we can capture some information and get with law enforcement and start pursuing some convictions in our area.”
Law enforcement says it is a statewide epidemic, and the state department of education has proof.
Last June, the Department of Education conducted a survey with just 25 of the state’s 81 school districts. On that one day, bus drivers reported 388 vehicles illegally passing buses. If that is an average day, that is 72,000 brushes with disaster for our kids each school year…in just 1/3 of the districts.
That survey echoes what Fleming says is happening in his district. However, he agrees with some that the law has some questioning whether the investment in the cameras is worth it.
“We know they ran the stop arm, I have that on video, but we just don’t know who is driving the car,” Fleming told a group of law enforcement at a meeting he organized last Friday.
The officers told Fleming, while the evidence captured by the system BCSD is testing would help them, it would still take an investigation — similar to a hit-and-run report — in order for them to convict.
At issue is the part of the law that says; ” A uniform traffic citation alleging the violation of Section 56-5-2770 may be issued based in whole or part upon the images obtained from a digital video recording device mounted on a school bus. A copy of the citation must be given directly to the alleged offender by the law enforcement officer issuing the citation,“
Meaning, it’s not as simple as identifying the vehicle, and license plate and writing a ticket to the registered owner.
“It gives us a good start, but it in some cases it is going to take a little more in-depth investigation,” one officer said.
State troopers say, video from exterior cameras helped them convict three drivers since the start of the school year.
Norman also said, he would rather invest in newer buses since the fleet is in such bad shape. Fleming agreed that the buses should be a priority, but for him, if it gets people to stop running stop arms, the investment in cameras is worth it.
“That’s the reality, it is, we do have an old fleet, but as long as we’re running old buses and we’re having people pass them illegally, at the safety of the children we need to address it,” said Fleming.
With the cost to upfit a bus currently equipped with interior cameras in the $1500 – $3000 range, Fleming says he will be looking into grants. He also said, adding exterior cameras to every bus is unrealistic. Drivers knowing the bus they are approaching may have them, could make them think twice about passing them.