As of last Monday, fines have replaced warnings.
Drivers in Marysville who ignore the red flashing lights and the stop sign paddle that swings out from school buses can expect to find a $419 fine in the mail in the coming days. Cameras that were installed on 15 school district buses last month are recording images of vehicle license plates. For the first month, drivers received warnings; now they’ll get the fines, as The Herald’s Kari Bray reported Thursday.
The school district has contracted with American Traffic Solutions, which provides the camera equipment and will receive $69 of the $419 fine for each recorded violation. ATS doesn’t decide who to ticket; the images and data that ATS collects is forwarded to the Marysville Police Department for its review. The city’s municipal court collects a $47 fee for processing the citations. And the balance goes to the school district for school transportation safety projects.
Marysville is the first school district in the county to install the cameras under the 2011 state law that permitted them. Stop-arm cameras on school buses also are being used to ticket drivers in the Oak Harbor and Mercer Island school districts.
Between June and early December of last year, Oak Harbor bus cameras, administered by a different company than ATS, resulted in 11 citations for illegal passing, according to a December story by the Whidbey News-Times, but only two buses at that point had cameras at that point.
The cameras on Marysville’s 15 buses, in the first month, resulted in 45 warnings.
Were the cameras installed on all school buses in the state, the citations could mount significantly.
Last year, Washington state school districts and their bus drivers were invited to participate in a nationwide survey that counted the number of vehicles that illegally passed school buses stopped to allow children to get on and off. The one-day count, held on May 6, with 3,792 bus drivers participating, recorded a total of 1,566 drivers illegally passing buses.
The nationwide tally for 2016, collected by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation, recorded more than 74,000 violations in the one-day surveys recorded in 33 states by about 20 percent of the nation’s school bus drivers.
The intent, of course, is for the citations and the fines to act as a deterrent and an encouragement for drivers to be more watchful around school buses.
“Drivers just don’t think,” Marysville school bus driver Jan Bates told The Herald in March. “They’re thinking about something other than the ‘stop’ paddle. I don’t know how much more red and flashy it can get.”
Bus drivers have always been able to write down the license plate and other details when they witness infractions and forward that information to police, but that’s not easy to do when a bus driver is expected to keep an eye on traffic and the children they are responsible for.
Traffic cameras, specifically those that take photos of drivers ignoring stop lights and speed limits, have proved controversial elsewhere in the county and state. Lynnwood currently is the only city in the county to use cameras for violations of stop lights and speed limits.
In the face of citizen complaints that the cameras are used more for revenue than public safety, the city extended its contract last fall with ATS for its traffic cameras. But in March, a Lake Forest Park man filed a federal class-action suit against the city that seeks $5 million in ticket refunds.
While a $419 fine is hefty — as it should be for a traffic violation that involves the safety of children — use of the cameras on school buses should not be viewed cynically as a moneymaker for school districts.
As Marysville school and law enforcement officials collect data on the infractions and whether the cameras are successfully providing a deterrent, other districts should consider this as another tool for student safety.
If flashing red lights don’t get the attention of some drivers, making scofflaws flash some green should.