Greater Jasper to install cameras on all buses


More cameras will be installed on Dubois County school buses before the upcoming fall semester.

The cameras, which are installed on the exterior stop arms and the bus interiors, help to apprehend stop-arm violators by recording vehicles from the front as they approach the bus and from behind as they pass. If someone violates the law, the schools and law enforcement can work together to identify the license plate number and locate and cite the driver after the incident.

The four county school corporations — Greater Jasper, Northeast Dubois, Southeast Dubois and Southwest Dubois — worked together in 2020 to secure funding for 15 stop-arm cameras to be split among themselves. These were funded through a grant from the Dubois County Community Foundation, funds from the school corporations and private donations.

Within the next month or so, Northeast Dubois, Southeast Dubois and Southwest Dubois will all install cameras on two buses each, Northeast Dubois Superintendent Bill Hochgesang said. Greater Jasper, however, will be using funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER III, grant to install cameras in the remainder of the school’s fleet, including those that are independently owned by the corporation.

Currently, Greater Jasper has cameras on seven buses. By the start of the 2021-22 school year, it will have cameras on all 30.

The ultimate goal is to install cameras on every school bus in the county within the next four years, Hochgesang said.

The Greater Jasper School Board announced in May that it would be receiving just over $2.1 million for COVID-19 relief through the ESSER III grant to spend within the next three years. The camera systems will cost about $2,200 to $2,400 for each bus, said Glenn Buechlein, Greater Jasper’s director of transportation and student services.

Buechlein said the school corporation is confident the funds will be used well in installing the cameras, as it ultimately boils down to a potential life-or-death situation if a student were to be hit by a driver violating the law.

“It greatly concerns us and upsets us because there's been too many close calls,” he said. “We think it's that valuable that we are paying for our independent [buses] to be equipped as well.

In Buechlein’s experience, the violators that have been caught on camera and cited in the past year have mostly admitted to simply not paying attention to the amber lights and stop-arm.

“When I’ve accompanied the officers to track them down, they’ll say that they did it. They don’t ever really explain, they just say that they spaced out,” he said. “And it’s usually not teenagers on their cellphones, it’s usually middle-aged people like myself, and they’re just oblivious to the lights flashing.”

Under Indiana law, stop-arm violations are a Class B misdemeanor under the reckless driving statute. Officers also have the discretion to pull over a driver who violates a stop-arm and issue a warning, an infraction ticket or a criminal ticket.

About 45 violators were cited in the past year, Jasper School Resource Officer Jason Knies said. Only one was charged with a misdemeanor.

Knies, who drives a school bus himself for Greater Jasper, said most of the violators are from out of town, which can sometimes make it difficult to track them down in person if their license plate isn’t attached to a correct phone number.

In addition to helping catch violators, the cameras will also be used to hold the drivers accountable for safe driving, Knies said. And if a complaint is called in about a bus driver and the camera footage disproves the complaint, then it can be useful for that, too.

Knies said drivers should try to stop as soon as they see the flashing lights instead of treating it as a “yellow light” and speeding through before the stop-arm extends.

“The biggest thing is we want to ensure the safety of all the students on our buses,” he said.

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