Photo by Michael Watkins/Whidbey News-Times Oak Harbor schools are adding video cameras to more than half a dozen buses, like the one pictured above.

School bus cameras catching passing violators

Drivers thinking about illegally passing a school bus should think twice.

The Oak Harbor School District is partnering with Gatekeeper Systems, Inc. to install video enforcement technology that will record the license plates of vehicles illegally passing a bus.

It is unlawful to pass a school bus while its “stop” paddle is out, explained Francis Bagarella, director of the Transportation Department for Oak Harbor schools.

“We want to make sure the public is aware that the cameras are there,” Bagarella said.

The district’s transportation department has been testing the cameras on two buses since June and now plans to expand the system to at least six buses that serve the highest-traffic routes.

It’s on those routes that the most violations occur, according to the district.

Since June, the recording system has resulted in 11 citations being issued to drivers for illegal passing, punishable by a fine of $419, according to the Island County District Court.

“It is pretty cut-and-dried. The camera captures everything,” Bagarella said.

Some people who object to the system say it is just another way to make money, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth, said Dave Dyment, a sales representative for Gatekeeper.

Bagarella agreed.

“This is not at all about a money grab. It’s about our concern for the safety of the kids,” he said.

The Gatekeeper system is an end-to-end solution for school districts, which provide services beyond the cameras. The video of violations is moved into an online database called the Traffic Infraction Management System, or TIMS.

The company sends that information to the local police department, which can use it as evidence of a violation and issue a citation.

Drivers who receive a citation by mail can log on to TIMS and review the video evidence against them, which includes the time, date and GPS location.

Offenders have the option of paying their fine online.

The service does come with additional costs beyond the installed equipment and maintenance, Dyment said, but those costs may be offset by revenue generated from the citations in communities. A portion of the fines are redirected to the school district.

According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, 50 percent of the money collected from such fines goes into a school zone safety account that funds enforcement, engineering and educational programs designed to improve school zone safety and student transportation.

Oak Harbor Police Department has been very supportive of the system, Bagarella said.

The system frees up bus drivers to focus on students rather than trying to write down license plate numbers of traffic offenders and making additional reports, he added.

Nationwide, a total of 74,421 bus-passing violations were reported in a single day, according to a 2016 survey by the National Stop Arm Survey.

More than 96,000 school bus drivers in 33 participating states participated in the survey, which was spearheaded by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Services.

The survey estimates more than 13 million bus-passing violations occur during a 180-day school year.

Oak Harbor is not unique or immune to these statistics, Bagarella said. This year, in Washington state alone, a one-day survey was conducted in May with 3,792 drivers in 137 districts reporting a total of 1,568 violations.

Bagarella said he wants to see more public awareness when it comes to the rules and safety regarding school buses.

“We want to do everything we can to make it as safe for the kids as possible,” he said.

The newest video enforcement system from Gatekeeper Solutions Inc. will be added to more than half a dozen busses in the upcoming months. Provided photo

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