Program designed to halt stop-arm violators, improve safety
About 11 people per day drive around a stopped school bus that is loading or unloading children in Georgetown, said Walter Prothro, Georgetown ISD director of transportation.
Its one of the most dangerous things going on in the school bus business right now, Prothro said. There are roughly 23 to 26 kids killed a year in the United States in and around a school bus. Two-thirds of those are kids trying to cross the street who get hit by a passing car, so this is a very serious matter.
Between Sept. 30 and Oct. 25, the district counted 431 violations, Prothro said, adding that the highest number were seen on Hwy. 29 near Southwestern University, along Fourth and Sixth streets and at Northwest Boulevard and Seranada Drive.
Working with American Traffic Solutions, Prothro presented a program to City Council on Nov. 26 to put cameras on school buses to catch drivers who pass buses while their red lights are flashing and stop arms are deployed during drop-off or pickup times.
The Georgetown ISD board of trustees approved the program at a Jan. 21 meeting, and City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance Jan. 28. The second reading was Feb. 11.
We feel the number of those violations is significant, Georgetown Police Chief Wayne Nero said. We think we can impact these numbers.
Prothro said ATS will install five sets of cameras on five buses on the routes with the highest number of violations. More cameras could be installed in the future or moved to different routes as the program progresses, said David Jackson, ATS senior business development director.
Prothro said there would be no out-of-pocket costs to the city or the school district. The funding would come from fines paid by violators who are ticketed.
This is going to cost us nothing in terms of money, [and] we might even save a life, Prothro said.
The district could begin a public service campaign with information about the program by the end of February and could have the cameras installed by the end of March, he said.
When a vehicle passes a school bus loading or unloading students with the stop arm deployed, the ATS system begins recording video and images, which are then sent to ATS for verification.
If the violation is confirmed, the information is sent to the Georgetown Police Department for approval. ATS may then issue a citation by mail to the registered owner of the vehicle.
The ordinance calls for a $300 fine for each violation, but members of the council requested higher fines for subsequent violations. City Manager Paul Brandenburg said increasing fines could be added to the ordinance before the second reading.
Along with the cameras, GISD Superintendent Joe Dan Lee said the program also encourages driver education.
It amazes me when people drive through the flashing red light on the bus, Lee said at a Dec. 16 school board meeting. [We want to] try to deter [that]as much as possible.
When to stop
Drivers are required to stop when school buses are stopped and have activated the red flashing lights or the stop-arm is deployed. If the road is only divided by a left-turn lane or two yellow lines, drivers on both sides of the roadway must stop. However, if the road is separated by a physical barrier or median, only the vehicles driving the same direction as the bus are required to stop. GISD Director of Transportation Walter Prothro said drivers should use caution when in neighborhoods and near schools and watch for students running to catch the bus.
Source: Texas Department of Public Safety
Georgetown ISD pilot program helps track students on buses
Georgetown ISDs Transportation Department is expected to complete a pilot program in March to help track students while they are onboard GISD buses.
Smart Tag, developed by Georgetown-based Secured Mobility LLC, allows the district to issue an ID card to each bus-riding student in the district to help drivers and parents know which students are on the bus and where they get off.
I just really wanted to come up with something that made it safer for the kids and safer for the drivers, Smart Tag Product Manager Brett Taylor said. This system was developed in response to a real need when it comes to transporting students.
Taylor developed the program after working as a bus driver in Belton ISD.
To get on or off the bus a student must swipe the ID card, which allows drivers to keep track of who is on the bus and make sure students are dropped off at the appropriate stop, GISD Director of Transportation Walter Prothro said.
The program began in January and runs for 30 school days on six buses on elementary, middle and high school routes, he said.
Part of the program also allows parents to log on to a secured portal and see where their children are in real time if they are riding the bus. The system will also allow parents to be notified when a child is 10 minutes away from his or her designated stop.