Schools roll out stop-arm cameras to start yearAugust 7, 2020
By LEANN BURKE
Law enforcement will now be better able to apprehend school bus stop-arm violators thanks to cameras installed on school buses throughout the county.
The four school corporations — Greater Jasper, Northeast Dubois, Southeast Dubois and Southwest Dubois — worked together to secure funding for 15 stop-arm cameras that were installed on school buses. The cameras record vehicles from the front as they approach a school bus and from behind as they pass. The hope is to capture enough detail from the front to identify a driver and the license plate number from behind. Law enforcement officers can use both pieces of information to locate and cite drivers after the incident, but the license plate number is vital.
“We need that license plate to get the vehicle,” said Sgt. Stuart Wilson with the Dubois County Sheriff’s Office.
Once law enforcement has identified the owner of the vehicle, they can go to the owner’s home or workplace to cite them into court. 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.
The goal of stop-arm cameras is two-fold. First, they act as a deterrent to keep drivers mindful of school buses on the road. Second, they make it easier to apprehend violators when violations happen. Northeast Dubois Transportation Director Ryan Case said that in the past when stop-arm violation happened, drivers radioed in to the school and reported the incident. The school then called law enforcement who would try to locate the driver, but that often wasn’t effective. Enforcement often requires officers to be in the right place at the right time
In January, Southeast Dubois School Resource Officer Josh Smith managed to catch a stop-arm violator based off a report radioed in from a bus driver near Bretzville. The driver was distracted and didn’t see the bus, Smith said.
“It’s amazing how distracted and unfocused people can be at times,” he said.
Smith’s stop was one of 10 stop-arm violations that were formally reported last school year, Wilson said. He knows the actual number of violations is higher because stop-arm violations are not always reported, and officers have the discretion to pull over drivers and issue a citation without filling out a criminal report.
“Stop-arm violations, while they may not happen every day, they happen often,” Wilson said. “And they’re just ultra-dangerous.”
The cameras take some of the chance out of enforcing stop-arm violations. With the cameras, the incident will be on video. Drivers will still need to radio in the incident, but school officials and law enforcement officers will meet the driver at the end of the route. Then, they’ll remove the footage from the camera and use it to find the driver.
“They’ll be a big boost for our school system and our drivers,” Case said.
The 15 stop-arm cameras were funded through a grant from the Dubois County Community Foundation, funds from the school corporations and private donations. Of the 15 cameras, Greater Jasper received seven, Northeast Dubois received four, Southeast Dubois received two and Southwest Dubois received two. Drivers who reported the most stop-arm violations were at the top of the list for cameras, as were drivers with highway routes.
The school superintendents’ goal is to have a stop-arm camera on each of the 88 school buses that operate within the county in the next five years. According to Herald archives, the Dubois County Council and several township trustees have agreed to help fund the purchase of additional cameras for the 2021-22 school year.
School Bus Safety Tips
School starts Wednesday. School buses will be on the roads in the mornings from 6 to 8 a.m. and in the afternoons from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.
School administrators and local law enforcement ask drivers to be aware that children will be present at bus stops and that buses will be stopping along roadways.
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