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Private company to issue $300 tickets to motorists passing stopped school buses

9:50 AM, Jul 20, 2012   |    comments
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COBB COUNTY, Ga. -- Do not pass that stopped school bus anywhere in Georgia.

If you do, and if you're in Cobb County, you will be caught on camera, you will get a $300 ticket in the mail and it won't even be the police sending you the ticket.

You'll get the ticket from a private company that the school board just hired to catch you.

Mandi Call and Sheri Lewis, the two crusading moms who founded OperationStopArm.info three years ago to lobby for the camera enforcement, watched with relief as the school board unanimously approved the plan Thursday night.

In 2009, a five-year-old girl from their children's school, Mountain View Elementary, was struck and killed by a driver who failed to stop for a stopped school bus. The child was getting off the bus when she was hit.

The Cobb County School Board conducted a pilot program over the past year, installing cameras on about 100 buses. Those cameras recorded 871 violations.

So the school board voted Thursday to put cameras on all 1,188 buses, and voted to contract with a company called American Traffic Solutions to provide and install the high-definition cameras to catch and ticket all drivers who drive past stopped school buses anywhere in the school district.

That's what's different from the pilot program -- district-wide enforcement, involving all buses, by a private company.

The company "can actually issue citations and hold motorists accountable for their actions," Mandi Call said. "This is only one step in the process ... We need to educate, we need public awareness."

"On average, every [stopped] bus is passed at least once a day," said Sheri Lewis, pointing out that that works out, on average, to 1,188 violations every day that the buses run. "So every time they pass, the children are in danger."

The company will send tickets to the vehicles' owners. The fine is $300. The company will keep 75 percent of the money to buy, install and maintain the cameras; to print and mail the tickets, including photos; and to prepare and send the video of each violation to Cobb County Police.

The county will keep the rest of the money to pay for administrative costs.

Police will enforce collections and will continue to enforce the law on their own as they see violations.

"It's not about the revenue," Lewis said. "It's about changing driving behavior in Cobb County -- and then, in fact, saving the children, protecting the children at the bus stop ... Two children died last school year in Georgia, crossing the street, loading or unloading their buses. So in Georgia, we're still leading the nation in children dying at bus stops. Hopefully the cameras will change driving behavior -- no more motorists passing [stopped] buses -- and the children are safer at the bus stops."

The message that the School Board hopes reaches drivers, loud and clear:

"Don't violate the stop arms," School Board member David Banks said. "Stop when the bus stops, because there may be some young children who are not paying attention. Don't put them at risk."

It is a state law, not just a Cobb County law.

You have to stop for a stopped school bus, even on multi-lane highways, regardless of which direction you're driving (but if you're on a highway with a median separation, you do not have to stop if the bus is going in the opposite direction).

So in Cobb County, if the private company's cameras catch someone driving your car passing a stopped school bus, your fine is $300. But in Cobb County and everywhere else in Georgia, if police are the ones who catch the violation, the fine is not $300, it can cost you up to $1,000, and cost you six points against your license.

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