Athens drivers may start paying for ignoring one safety law

By Emily Curl

A school bus is stopped on Barnett Shoals road, dropping students at the entrance of an apartment complex.

Traffic behind the bus is stopped.

But eight of the nine cars traveling in the opposite direction do not stop.

Those drivers who did not stop violated Georgia’s law regarding school bus safety.

The law confuses many motorists, officials acknowledge, but understanding and obeying the law is the only way to avoid a $300 ticket.

Following in the steps of many other school districts across the U.S., Athens’s motorists will start paying a fine for ignoring school bus stop signals beginning this week.

Cobb County’s school district has already implemented this same camera system on their school busses, and according to the transportation director for the school district, Rick Gresham, bus drivers have already seen a decrease in violations.

Many other states, such as Connecticut, Maryland, Washington, and Louisiana, have also begun installing these mounted traffic cameras onto school buses to deter motorists from speeding past stopped buses.

This past January, five Clarke County School District buses were equipped with external cameras in hopes to enforce Georgia’s state law requiring motorists to stop for school buses when they drop passengers off.

These cameras were finally put into action on Monday after several weeks of test runs.

Ernie Stedman is an employee of American Traffic Solution and the installer of the camera systems on Clarke County school buses.

When asked about the cameras, Stedman said “There are 6 cameras on each bus. The system (a small computer) knows when the stop arm is extended, and can visually detect when a vehicle passes. It then records a video of the vehicle and its tag, and sends the video up to the server for review and citation issuance. Everything on the bus [system] is automated requiring no driver involvement.”

In the past, it was the responsibility of Clarke County bus drivers to recognize a car passing the stopped bus and up to them to make note of the tag number.

This proved almost impossible for any busy bus driver.

As stated by the American Traffic Solutions website “CrossingGuard® is a completely automated enforcement system that requires no bus driver involvement. High-resolution cameras installed on the exterior of the bus automatically capture images and video of violating vehicles as they illegally pass the stop arm. In addition to capturing video, the system automatically embeds a data bar which includes GPS coordinates, date and time of the violation, and other relevant violation information used to create a comprehensive evidence package.”

This could be bad news for drivers who do not know the extent of the law.

“It will reduce violations in two ways,” Stedman added. ” The cameras themselves are a deterrent for anyone thinking of passing when the arm is out. The second way is by modifying driver behavior; if they do go around, they get a $300 citation.  I think they will be very careful not to repeat that offense.”

The Georgia law states “when [a] school bus stops for passengers, all traffic from both directions must stop.”

All motorists are expected to obey this law, unless there is a physical barrier as a median, then only traffic following the bus must stop.

Barnett Shoals Road is a four lane road with a turning lane running throughout the middle of the road.

There is no physical barrier as a median, meaning motorists traveling in the opposite direction are expected to stop for the school bus along with the traffic following the bus.

This law is confusing to many motorists, but it is important for all drivers to know and understand the law to avoid getting a ticket.

“I think it is confusing to a lot of drivers,” Emily Jolly said when asked about Georgia’s law. “I know I have to stop on a two lane road, but sometimes when I’m traveling on a larger road I don’t even notice the bus stopped on the opposite side.”

This same idea is common for many Athens drivers.

“I guess it’s just because I never really see other cars stopping, I didn’t realize I had to stop,” T.J. Hinton answered when asked about stopping for school buses on Barnett Shoals Road.

This is exactly what the Clarke County School District is hoping the camera systems will accomplish: awareness.

Cathy Benson, Clarke County’s school district transportation director, explained that five buses are equipped with this camera system at this time, but there is a possibility of adding up to twenty buses total.

When asked how the buses were picked to have the system installed she said the buses were chosen by the roads they travel; buses that travel on busier, heavily congested roads were picked to be outfitted with the cameras first.

According to Benson, there was no cost to the school district to have the buses equipped with the cameras, and the district does not receive any revenue from violations.

Online Athens reported, “Violators face a $300 fine for their first violation, $750 for a second offense and $1,000 for a third.”

“Safety for our students is always our foremost goal,” Benson said. “However, we also want to educate and increase the awareness of the public about the laws when sharing the road with school buses.”