ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (WJZ) -- It's illegal to pass a school bus when it's stopping or stopped with a stop sign extended and lights flashing. But over and over again drivers ignore that law and do it anyway, putting the lives of student passengers at risk.
Now in Howard County, it'll be much easier to catch the drivers who break that law. Starting March 1, school buses that serve the Howard County Public School System will have external cameras installed to capture the license plates of drivers who pass buses illegally.
"The safety of our students as they travel to and from school is a collaborative effort that every citizen and visitor to Howard County must be accountable for," said HCPSS Superintendent Michael J. Martirano. "Every day, too many drivers are traveling in an unsafe manner near our bus stops and in our school zones, putting our children at great risk. I am grateful for the partnership with the Howard County Police Department to advance this important aspect of maintaining safety at school bus stops."
The cameras which will be maintained by BusPatrol America LLC will be able to capture 180-degree high-definition, color images and up to eight lanes of traffic.
The program, in conjunction with Howard County Police, will begin on March 1, 2021 -- when in-person instruction is expected to begin in the county.
"The most common complaints we receive at the police department are about traffic violations, often in the very residential communities where school buses are picking up and dropping off our children," said Police Chief Lisa Myers. "Passing those buses creates a serious potential danger to all students who are simply trying to travel safely to and from school. External cameras on school buses will send a message to drivers that it is critically important to stop for every school bus, every time."
During the first month, violators will be issued a warning and paid citations will begin on April 1, 2021, by the county police.
"Nothing is more important the safety of our kids," said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball. "Every parent should feel comfortable sending their child to the bus stop, and these new cameras are an important deterrent for those putting our kids in harm's way. I appreciate the support of the Howard County Council, Police Chief Myers, Superintendent Martirano, and the Board of Education for making this law a reality and ensuring accountability and enforcement when it comes to our children's safety."
State courts have set the fine at $250 with no points. Every fine collected will go back into the cost for the cameras.
It is illegal for drivers in both directions to pass a school bus when it's stopping or stopped with a stop sign extended and lights flashing.
School buses are used daily to transport 41,000 students in Howard County, making more than 10,000 stops.
Before the pandemic, a one-day survey found 290 drivers failed to legally stop while the bus was picking up or dropping off students.
"Our students are our most precious resource and it is critical that they are able to travel to and from school in a safe manner," said HCPSS Board Chair Chao Wu. "External bus cameras are in place in many school districts in Maryland and I am grateful that Howard County is now able to implement this important safety measure."
Information about preventing school bus-related accidents, including laws about passing school buses, may be found on the Maryland Department of Transportation website.
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