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Pittsburgh May Use AI to Fine Those Who Pass School Buses

The school board of Pittsburgh Public Schools will decide this month whether an artificial intelligence system will be deployed to fine and discourage people for illegally passing stopped school buses.

School bus stop sign
Shutterstock/Jerry Horbert
(TNS) — The Pittsburgh Public Schools could soon implement an artificial intelligence system that captures information from vehicles that illegally pass stopped school buses and sends fines to their owners in an attempt to deter repeat infractions.

The city school board this month could agree to launch a pilot program with BusPatrol, a tech company that uses artificial and machine learning to promote safety for students traveling to and from school.

According to the company, which is based in Lorton, Va., and recently opened a Pennsylvania office in the city of Allentown, more than 136,000 school bus-related injuries and more than 1,000 fatalities have occurred in the past decade.

"One of those causes of fatalities is illegal passes, and that's the problem we're here to solve," Jean Souliere, CEO and founder of BusPatrol, told school board members at a meeting last week.

BusPatrol has partnered with school systems in several states and began working with districts in Pennsylvania a couple of years ago. The company installs software on school buses that has the capability of monitoring the vehicle's surroundings.

If a vehicle illegally passes a stopped bus, the device collects video of the offense and other information, including a license plate number, and turns it into an evidence package that it sends to police. If police then approve the citation, BusPatrol prints it and mails it to the vehicle owner, who can go online and view a video of their vehicle passing a stopped bus.

"As you can imagine, it's quite compelling. Most people pay when they see their video the first time," Mr. Souliere said. "Less than 5% of people contest their tickets, which are heard by the local courts ... Of the 5% that contest, less than 2% actually show up."

BusPatrol said the program has proven to increase safety because 98% of offenders do not get cited by the company a second time.

Mr. Souliere said the cost of the program is completely paid for by the ticket revenue, and the school district gets a large chunk of the $300 citation. A conservative estimate showed the district would receive $500,000 per 100 buses per year that it can invest back into schools, he said. About 500 buses carry students throughout the district.

School board member Pam Harbin said she had a "very strong reaction" to the idea that the district would have a program paid for by fining people who may simply make a mistake.

"I'm not going to agree to a system that's going to put people in that position," Ms. Harbin said. "I would rather have months and months of education and pay for that to improve behavior rather than saying we're going to harm people in a different way."

Mr. Souliere said the citation is a civil monetary penalty, no points are put on an offender's license, and vehicle insurance is not impacted. If necessary, he said, the fine can be paid over a certain period of time through a payment plan. But he noted that failure to pay the fine could result in the suspension of a license or plates not being renewed.

Before citations start being issued, the company blitzes media in communities where the program is implemented to provide an education or reminder of the law. The company places informational television commercials, works with local media and creates educational videos for schools and other entities.

School board member Tracey Reed said she was concerned about police using the information that the system collects for other purposes, such as fining individuals for other issues with their vehicles. Mr. Souliere, though, said police are not allowed to do that.

"The scope of use by law is exclusively for the enforcement of this specific stop arm infraction," he said. "In fact, if someone were to get caught by a police officer in passing a stopped school bus, the civil penalty would no longer apply — it would be the criminal one that would apply."

The software has the ability to film inside the bus and can provide video in the instance of a fight or an accident, according to Mr. Souliere.

Michael McNamara, the district's chief operating officer, said that if the board approves the pilot program, the software will be placed on about 20 buses in various areas of the city. No citations would be issued during the pilot.

If the board approves the full program after the pilot period, the technology would be installed on all school buses with stop arms that serve Pittsburgh students.

"If this is successful and the board is on board with it — no pun intended there — we would then deploy [the software] over the summer to the rest of our buses that have stop arms, and then start collecting ticket revenue beginning the first day of the new school year next year," Mr. McNamara said. "No tickets would be issued, only warnings, the rest of this year, and then we would be able to educate the rest of the summer and have full deployment first day of school next fall."

©2022 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.