School bus safety has been a concern for Alabama educators since the incident in Dale County left a bus driver dead and a young child held hostage for several days. Montgomery County, one of the largest school districts in the country, is taking steps to make school buses safer by installing special security equipment in their vehicles. A new pilot program allows the county to test the equipment in a few of its buses for free before investing in the security equipment for more of its fleet.
Four Buses Serve as Test Models
AL.com reports that four Montgomery County school buses have been equipped with advanced security equipment as a part of a new pilot program. Bus Guard, a company based in Texas, has installed video equipment into the vehicles that allow it to track events inside the bus and outside traffic. The primary purpose of the surveillance equipment is to identify motorists who illegally pass the bus so that citations may be issued.
Michael Cox, director of transportation for Montgomery Public Schools says loading and unloading pose the greatest danger to students riding the school bus. Cox explained, “We can’t predict what the drivers of cars stopped near buses will do. Students have lost their lives around the state and the nation because a driver of another vehicle was in a hurry and disobeyed the law, passed a bus, and hit and killed a student.”
This video from bus manufacturer Bluebird explains some of the safety features on newer buses.
Outside Cameras to Monitor Traffic Flow
The new security equipment includes outside cameras to monitor traffic flow around the school bus. The cameras can also capture images of cars that pass the bus illegally when the lights are flashing and the stop sign is extended. Additional cameras collect information like the car’s license plate number so citations may be sent to drivers guilty of infractions.
According to the Montgomery Adviser, the pilot buses have already caught a driver running a stop sign. However, during the program's pilot phase, data collected is for informational purposes only. Citations are not being issued during this time period. However, if the pilot becomes a permanent security program, the school district would work with local authorities to develop a system for viewing camera images and issuing citations.
Inside Security Features
In addition to the exterior cameras, additional features are included in the high-tech security systems to protect the bus's interior. Cameras cover the entire interior of the bus, providing potential evidence for any types of altercations that might occur. Video surveillance is provided, as well as still photos.
The system also provides a panic button for the driver in the event of an emergency and the inability to radio for help. This feature might have been helpful in the Dale County incident, where the driver could not radio for assistance. The new security technology includes a GPS that tracks the location, speed, and direction of every bus on the road as well.
Lawmakers to Consider Alabama School Bus Safety Act
The pilot program has been in effect since last fall. Now, the state legislature is considering a bill allowing images from the school bus surveillance equipment to legally issue citations to drivers. The bill would permit the school bus cameras to serve the same purpose as red light cameras currently offer at intersections around the state. If it passes, a portion of the fine would be sent to the school system to help pay for the surveillance equipment.
The additional funding would be helpful to cash-strapped Montgomery County, ensuring the district could add security to more school buses without spending any of the district’s own cash on the project. However, Montgomery Public Schools Superintendent Barbara W. Thompson said that even if the bill doesn’t pass, she still wants to see this security equipment on every bus in Montgomery County eventually.
“Our transportation system has an excellent safety record,” Thompson told AL.com. “Our drivers and mechanics work very hard to ensure children are safe as they ride our buses. The issue is the traffic around the bus. This new system adds extra tools for our work to keep students safe.”
This video offers another look at new safety features on school buses.
Other School Districts Using School Bus Security
Montgomery Public Schools isn’t the only district considering additional security measures for school buses. According to USA Today, Georgia parents began clamoring for better school bus safety several years ago when a driver passed a bus and killed a kindergarten student. That was in 2009 and by 2011, a law was passed that allows officers to use video surveillance when investigating an accident involving a school bus.
Cobb County has installed cameras on more than 100 school buses. Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions manufactured and maintained the surveillance equipment on these buses. Since the cameras were installed last fall, more than 2,000 citations have been issued.
Falls Church, Virginia, recently voted to allow the use of school bus cameras, becoming the first community in the state to do so. Iowa is also considering allowing for the use of school bus cameras, while Stratford Public Schools is one of about a dozen districts in the state of Connecticut to use school bus cameras currently.
Keeping children safe is a top concern for public schools, whether the students are on school property or being transported to and from their schools. With security equipment now available on some school buses, the ride to school may have become a little safer.
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