Eanes ISD set to nab area motorists passing stopped school buses

Eanes ISD set to nab area motorists passing stopped school busesAlthough Eanes ISD Transportation Director Tim Wysong said the district’s buses have housed cameras for at least a decade, a new program planned to begin this fall will provide an extra incentive for potential violators who seek to pass a bus when its flashing lights are on to stay in line.


District officials have a contract with BusGuard, a Dallas-based company that produces and installs cameras on school and municipal buses, to add more cameras on EISD buses, Wysong said. These cameras, in conjunction with a proposed West Lake Hills city ordinance, will photograph violators who can be tracked down by their license plate and then adjudicated, he said. The district plans to put cameras on each of its 44 buses during the 2015-16 school year—on the driver’s side exterior, right side, rear; dashboard, front interior, rear interior pointed inward and rear interior pointed outward, he said.


“Currently we have [non-BusGuard] cameras on 35 of our buses, but they are not sanctioned through law enforcement to be able to enforce ticketing,” EISD Communications Director Claudia McWhorter said. “With those cameras we have seen an average of five to seven violations a day. As you can imagine, this is alarming to us, as we of course want to ensure the safety of our students getting on and off the bus.”


The project does not cost the school district any money as it is completely subsidized by the company producing the camera technology, FXS/BusGuard representative Slater Swartwood said to West Lake Hills City Council on July 8. The per-bus cost for BusGuard for the camera installation is about $8,000, Swartwood said.


City Council members are considering an ordinance to create a civil penalty—in addition to the city’s criminal penalty—for drivers who pass a school bus while its lights are flashing.


“[School bus] violations happen a lot more often than our police are around to see it,” Mayor Dave Claunch said.


In 2014, 52 citations were issued in the city for failure to stop or remain stopped for a school bus, City Manager Robert Wood said.


An ordinance that exacts a civil fine—as opposed to a criminal penalty with jail time—is needed before violators can be adjudicated, Swartwood said. The ordinance has already been passed by other municipalities—including Austin, Elgin, Georgetown, San Marcos and Dallas County, he said. The fine for its violation is generally $300, of which BusGuard retains 75 percent of the amount collected, and the school district and citation-
issuing municipality each keep 12.5 percent of the fines collected, he said.


In 2013 the district initiated a pilot program of the BusGuard system on one bus, McWhorter said. During the program term, the district averaged more than two violations per week and as many as four violations per day, she said.


In Dallas County in 2014, BusGuard installed cameras on all of the school district’s buses, resulting in 28,587 tickets, he said. Out of those tickets, about 4,500 proceeded to an adjudication hearing, with 152 of those violators protesting the hearing results in municipal court, Swartwood said. Although most tickets are handled in an adjudication hearing, the remainder involve the violator appearing in municipal court, he said. If the violator does not pay the fine issued, the matter is turned over to a collections department, he said.


About 15 percent of all of the adjudication hearings result in the ticket being dismissed, Swartwood said.


In the San Marcos CISD, where BusGuard has a contract, officers weekly review about 50 videos captured by the cameras on the district’s 100 buses, Swartwood said. Out of those videos, officers write about five citations per week, he said.


McWhorter said the BusGuard and EISD agreement is approved by EISD’s board of trustees.


West Lake Hills City Council will take up the issue again Aug. 12, Wood said.



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