Drivers in Frederick County, Md., may want to think twice before illegally passing public school buses on the road because cameras will be watching possible law violators.

“Last year, our [bus] drivers witnessed approximately 450 instances of unsafe driving around school buses,” said Michael Doerrer, a spokesman for Frederick County Public Schools. “And frankly one is too many when we’re talking about the safety of our children.”

Frederick County isn’t the only area in Maryland where this is a problem. In 2011, a Maryland Department of Education survey found 7,000 incidents of drivers illegally passing school buses in the span of one day.

To ensure student safety, the county school district, the Sheriff’s Office and Xerox teamed up to implement the CrossSafe system on 40 of the county’s school buses. When a bus is stopped and the stop sign attached to the bus swings out for drivers to see, an attached camera is automatically activated to capture footage of cars passing illegally. The video cameras work similarly to red-light cameras at traffic signals.

If a driver appears to pass the bus illegally, the camera captures nearly 20 time-lapsed images from two lenses providing pictures of the front and the back of the vehicle. Images can then be pieced together to create a video of the purported violation taking place.

The program remains in the testing phase in Frederick County, and only a couple of buses there have the camera equipment installed. When the program is officially implemented, the photo information will be sent to Xerox for initial review of the footage.

That information would then be sent to the Sheriff’s Office, where staff will verify that the footage recorded by the camera is indeed a violation of the law, said Cpl. Jennifer Bailey. Within two weeks, a $125 civil citation will be sent to the registered owner of the vehicle.

Violations caught on camera are less punitive than if seen in person by an officer, Bailey said. If an officer witnesses a driver illegally passing a bus, the driver receives a $570 citation and it carries a three-point penalty on the infractor’s driver’s license.

Xerox is providing the camera technology for free to the schools, and the company will earn revenue from citations generated by cameras, Bailey said. Neither the schools nor the Sheriff’s Office incurred any costs for the program.

Prior to this pilot program, bus drivers were tasked with reporting drivers that passed their school bus illegally. If a driver saw a violation occur, it was his or her responsibility to write down the violator’s license plate number and report it to the authorities.

Bailey said if drivers were reported through this method, the registered owner of the vehicle would only receive a warning letter.

“There was really no mechanism in place to cite somebody,” Bailey said. “It was a warning letter, and then if a second incident occurred where it was the same tag, a deputy would then go out and follow that bus route and try to capture the violation occurring in his presence and then stop the vehicle – very difficult to do.”

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.