The school bus is supposed to be a safe way to transport children between home and school, but these shuttles are facing increasing threats from negligent drivers.
One of the most serious threats facing students that ride the bus are drivers who don't stop when the bus is loading or unloading at a particular location. The Lake Travis Independent School District in Austin, Texas conducted a three-month-long observation to find out how many people failed to stop. In that time, they recorded 91 violations -- roughly one occurrence per day.
Force Multiplier Solutions (FMS), a Dallas-based technology company is working with the district to cut down on drivers ignoring bus stop signs with its Busguard product.
“We started a pilot program with FMS about a year ago,” said Marco Alvarado, director of Communications for the Lake Travis Independent School District in Austin, Texas.
The school district was motivated to work with FMS after a student was hit by a car while getting off of one of the district's school buses. The student was uninjured, but the incident stirred up the fears of parents and educators.
The district approved the use of Busguard, and has until next year to formulate the proper agreements and have the cameras installed on all of their buses.
The cameras will be installed and maintained by the vendor at no cost to the district, since the company makes its money from the fines it collects. FMS will get 75 percent of the revenue from citations issued, and the remainder of the funds will be split equally between the school district and the city. The minimum ticket for such a violation is more than $300.
Slater Swartwood, executive vice president of marketing for Busguard, points out that besides ticketing motorists, the system can also be used to identify pedophiles who may follow school buses. The video footage can also be used to identify who is at fault when after-school fights break out near the buses.
The system hard drive, which receives input from 11 cameras mounted around the bus, holds 22 days' worth of video -- half a terabyte of data, according to Swartwood. The cameras also use geo-coding and other tools to monitor different statistics, such as bus idling time and routes.
Seven of the cameras are located in a stainless steel box that is mounted behind the stop-arm on the bus. These cameras capture video in both directions and can record up to eight lanes of traffic. In addition, there are three interior cameras and one rear-facing camera.
Bus drivers don't have to participate in the monitoring process at all. FMS has more than 100 employees who monitor the exterior cameras from a central location in Dallas.
When a violator is spotted, an employee keys a button that marks the hard drive. That video is batched and routed to another layer of the organization, which reviews the tape again. If it's determined that a violation occurred, the video is sent to the local municipality. At that point, a sworn peace officer reviews the video and determines whether or not to send a ticket to the violator, using the license plate number to obtain the driver's address.
“It's about child safety,” says Swartwood about the system that he calls “head count neutral,” a term he uses since the system can be implemented without requiring the school district to hire any extra people.
FMS previously deployed the system in a Dallas school district, where it has been used to issue more than 30,000 citations. But it isn't the only company that's installing these types of cameras on school buses.
A school district in Frederick County, Md., recently implemented a similar system, called CrossSafe, in a partnership between the local sheriff's office and Xerox. In Frederick County, cameras are activated when the stop sign arm on the bus swings out, and Xerox receives a portion of the revenue received from citations issued.
Scott Amundson has written for a number of fine publications, including Attorney-at-Law Magazine and The Suit Magazine. He also contributes to the Oklahoman and the Journal Record.