MARYSVILLE — New traffic-enforcement cameras on school buses here could lead to fines and citations for drivers accused of illegally passing a stopped bus.
The cameras are meant to document drivers passing school buses while the “stop” paddle is out and students are getting on or off.
The Marysville School District has contracted with Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions to install the company’s CrossingGuard system on many of its buses. The cameras are mounted on the side and top of each bus.
When the “stop” paddle goes out and red lights flash, the cameras capture video and photographs of vehicles that pass in either direction. Employees at American Traffic Solutions go through the videos and photos, then forward possible violations to Marysville police for review.
Drivers could be fined $419 or cited for reckless driving for illegally passing a stopped school bus. Infractions detected by the cameras are treated like parking violations and do not go on driver records, according to state law.
Marysville is the first school district in Snohomish County to install the cameras. Other Washington school districts have done so, including Highline, Bethel and Mercer Island. State lawmakers in 2011 approved legislation that allows traffic-enforcement cameras on buses.
American Traffic Solutions is set to make $69 for each possible violation it submits to local police for review. The Marysville Municipal Court plans to charge the district $47 for each infraction it processes. Under state law, remaining money from fines must go toward safety projects in the school district, said Greg Dennis, facilities and security supervisor. That could include crossing guards, intersection improvements or safe walking paths to schools.
District officials say the goal is not to make money from fines but rather to discourage drivers from endangering students.
The contract between the district and American Traffic Solutions requires the district to provide daily updates on the buses that have the cameras and to allow for daily download of data from the system. The contract says the company can request that cameras be reassigned to another bus route if a bus is not capturing an average of at least one violation per school day.
The Marysville cameras are set to start taking photos and videos Wednesday. For the first 30 days, drivers caught on camera should receive a warning. After that, fines begin.
Bus driver Jan Bates can recall numerous times when people have zoomed past, turned in front of her bus or started driving again while the “stop” paddle was out. Shortly before the cameras were installed, a woman stopped while kids got off, then abruptly turned in front of the bus.
“The mindset is if they don’t see any more kids, they think they can go,” Bates said.
Drivers should remain stopped until the paddle is gone and the lights stop flashing. Bates has seen close calls, mostly on two-lane roads.
“I think every bus driver could tell horror stories,” said Traci Tobler, transportation manager for the school district. She oversees driver training.
She and Bates suspect most people who disobey the law do so because they’re in a hurry, they’re distracted or they don’t understand the rules.
On a road that has only two lanes or where there’s no divider between the directions of traffic, drivers going both directions must stop when the paddle is out and lights are flashing. Drivers going the opposite direction of the bus do not need to stop if the road is divided by a median or physical barrier, or if it is a highway with three or more marked lanes. A center turning lane is not a median or barrier.
While the rules for three- or four-lane roads can be confusing, it’s surprising how many people pass stopped buses on two-lane routes, Bates said.
“Drivers just don’t think,” she said. “They’re thinking about something other than the ‘stop’ paddle. I don’t know how much more red and flashy it can get.”
Fifteen buses have cameras installed so far. The school district has a written agreement with the city of Marysville, so only buses that have routes in the city limits are expected to be outfitted at this point. The district does not have an agreement with county law enforcement to track violations outside of Marysville.
The district did not pay for installation of the cameras, Dennis said. American Traffic Solutions charges its $69 fee for potential violations forwarded to police. If ATS employees review video or photos that don’t show anything illegal or don’t clearly show the vehicle and license plate, there’s no fee. However, the fee applies to anything that is shared with police, even if they don’t opt to cite the driver or the citation later is thrown out in court.
American Traffic Solutions also provides red-light and school-zone speed cameras. Its red light cameras in Lynnwood have been a point of contention for years and recently became the subject of a class-action lawsuit.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the school bus cameras in Marysville, and a refresher on the rules for when to stop, go to msd25.org/crossingguard.