COBB COUNTY, Ga. -- Cobb County Police have posted video of an SUV speeding by a student who was crossing the street to catch the bus, while the buses' stop arm was down.
DECEMBER 7, 2012 -- All those new cameras on Cobb County school buses are catching a lot of people who are breaking the law.
And apparently the word is out -- if you drive past a stopped school bus in Cobb, prepare to pay.
Every day, police review a new batch of photos and videos from the cameras which show people driving past the school buses while the buses' flashing stop signs are activated at bus stops, as children are getting on and off the buses.
The violators all get tickets in the mail. First offense: $300.
Since September 1, the new cameras installed on the exterior driver sides of 102 Cobb County school buses have, so far, caught 412 people failing to stop for the flashing stop signs.
"Oh, the [bus] drivers love the cameras," said School Bus Driver Brenda Turner on Thursday afternoon.
Turner said the cameras are not only catching violators -- she said she personally sees people driving through her flashing stop sign about once a day -- but the cameras are acting as a deterrent.
"I've noticed [people] are stopping more than they have in the past. I think now the word is out, so they know they had better stop."
It's all automatic, the cameras turn on as soon as the bus driver activates the flashing stop sign at the school bus stops.
"Once the stop arm is out, this camera is activated," said Cobb Police Lieutenant Hawk Hagebak.
Lt. Hagebak thinks of five-year-old Karla Campos, killed two years ago by a driver who failed to stop as Karla was getting off of her school bus in East Cobb County.
The new camera system, he said, is her legacy.
"Now this camera [system] is like having me standing here protecting the children as they cross the road.... We're doing this to try to prevent tragedies like that."
"So I feel like all of our efforts are paying off," said Rick Grisham of Cobb County schools, "and we want to get to zero [violations], that's our goal."
Grisham said that by next month, 98 additional buses will be outfitted with the cameras, for a total of 200 buses -- 20 percent of the fleet of 1,000 that are on the road every day. And he said he expects to see violations decrease steadily.
Cobb County Schools contracted with a company called American Traffic Solutions to manage the program. ATS supplies the cameras, installs them, reviews the photos and videos of all possible violations, and sends the photos and videos to Lt. Hagebak in Cobb County, whose office then reviews them and decides which drivers to ticket. ATS then sends the tickets.
ATS is receiving, the first year, 75 percent of all fines collected, and the remaining 25 percent is split between Cobb County Schools and Cobb County government.
Lt. Hawk Hagebak, Cobb County Police Dept. Traffic Services Commander:
This system has seven cameras on the driver's side of each bus.... On the front are tag reading cameras, and on the back are tag reading cameras, so it can pick up vehicles going either direction.
With the stop arm out, traffic in both directions has to stop. Except the traffic which is separated by a divided highway, like a median.
When the stop arm is out, you should stop. So once the stop arm is out, this camera is activated, this sensor is activated, looking for any movement to the side. If there's any movement to the side, the other cameras kick on, they read the tags, and they also detect the movement.
Now this camera is like having me standing here protecting the children as they cross the road, next to the bus. That's what this camera does.
We anticipated receiving about 500 violations a day -- with a hundred buses [outfitted with the cameras], anticipating five violations per day was not beyond the realm of possibility. What we're finding is about one violation per day [per bus].
If we catch you [by] using the video, the fine is $300 [$750 for the second violation] and no points.... it doesn't go on your driver's history. But the fine for passing a stopped school bus when caught by a police officer is up to $1,000, and it is six points on your driver's license. It's a very serious violation.
If someone else was driving your car at the time of the violation, "You can send us notice that that vehicle was being driven by someone else, let us know who that is, and we'll be happy to follow up with them" and send them the ticket.
Karla Campos [five years old] was killed just getting off of a school bus in East Cobb back two years ago, and this system, it's, we're doing this to try to prevent tragedies like that.
Rick Grisham, Executive Director of Cobb County School District's Transportation Dept.:
Our Number One goal was to reduce the amount of violations per day, per bus. And so we knew that we had several per day....
It's highly successful. First of all, we're kind of the first in the State of Georgia, much less in the country, that's taken the initiative on this. We saw violations of 1,600 per day two years ago... last year... it reduced to 900... So we've seen our education piece (of the safety campaign) paying off before we began this current program [using the cameras]," and the cameras are further reducing violations dramatically.
People in subdivisions, when they've gotten a ticket, or they've noticed the [camera] box, they remind their neighbors "don't take a chance, just slow down and wait for the bus."
We have 1,200 buses in our fleet, we run roughly 1,000 per day [with 102 of them outfitted with cameras].... We're going to install [cameras on] an additional 98 buses.... By the end of January, we'll have 200 buses [with cameras] on the road in the most, what we consider the most serious routes that need attention, and we'll move these buses around, accordingly.
I get either three to five emails or calls a month, now, since we've been at it, saying, "I'm self-reporting, and did that bus have a camera on it,".... So I feel like all of our efforts are paying off, and we want to get to zero [violations], that's our goal. In a county this large we may never get there, but we had a major reduction in just two years.
We have 93,000 students that can ride a bus on a given day, and we have 44,000 bus stops... That's 88,000 times [a day] a bus is stopping and loading and unloading students, so we're doing everything we can every day to protect our students.
Be patient as motorists.
[American Traffic Solutions is] getting 75 percent of any revenue that comes in, and then we're splitting the remaining 25 percent with Cobb County government. And right now I haven't seen any money, and if we do get revenue and have resources, we're going to use that for education and outreach, we're not in it to make money, we just want to keep continuing getting the word out to quit doing it.
Brenda Turner, Cobb County School Bus Driver:
Oh, the drivers love the cameras.... The cameras do all the work, there are no [camera] buttons for us to push, we just do our normal job, safely getting the children on and off the bus.
I have an occasion [of someone running past the stop sign] at least once a day. Once a day.
We have parents that pass their own school bus, so we need everybody to know when to stop.
I've noticed they are stopping more than they have in the past. I think they have got, now the word is out [about the cameras], so they know they had better stop.
Georgia Law on Passing Stopped School Buses: http://www.cobbk12.org/centraloffice/Transportation/OperationStopArm.pdf