School buses may soon have cameras to catch illegal passers

TALLAHASSEE — State Rep. Emily Slosberg, has introduced a bill to the Florida Legislature allowing districts to install cameras on school buses to record drivers illegally passing stopped buses. The districts would then have the option to use these videos to send citations to anyone who was filmed passing a stopped bus. The cameras would be installed on the stop signal arms and would record license plates of passing motorists after the arm is extended.

School Superintendent, Ken Kenworthy likes the idea of the cameras. “Something needs to be done. We definitely have a problem with people passing school buses,” he said.

Sheriff Noel Stephen is not against using the cameras, but he does feel there could be problems when it comes time to prosecute. “How will they determine who was driving?” He asked. It would be just like the red light camera situation where they have to send tickets to the registered owner of the vehicle who may or may not have been the one driving. The cameras are not infallible either. They don’t always get the numbers exactly right. They might think it’s a one when it’s the letter I, he explained. Tickets are being sent to the wrong people. Toll booths have the same problem. They end up fighting a lot of them in court.

Something needs to be done though, he said. He stopped a woman recently for passing a school bus. When he pulled her over, he said she had her three little boys securely buckled into the back seat. She was obviously a caring mother, and yet she had just blown past a school bus with the arm out as if she did not care at all. When he talked to her she said she didn’t even realize what she had done until he told her.

She was just paying attention to the road ahead of her and yet, was totally unaware of her surroundings. She cried, and he felt like she was sincerely contrite. He gave her a ticket for $300 which he knew she couldn’t afford, but somehow people have to learn to pay attention. “What if those were your boys crossing the street to get on the bus?” he asked her. “I don’t know,” she said. “If she didn’t know, who does?” he wondered.

A similar bill, Gabby’s Law, which reclassified the offense of passing a school bus on the right side from a non-criminal moving violation to a reckless driving offense, was introduced in 2012 by Sen. David Simmons, but by the time it made it past the Senate’s Transportation Committee, the authorization of cameras had been removed from the bill. That portion of the bill was removed at the request of Sen. Jeff Brandes, who has been a long time opponent of red-light cameras and believes they do not contribute to safety in any way, and they cause more accidents where they are present. Additionally, he states municipal and county governments use them as a way to fuel their budgets.

If the bill passes, it will go into effect in October.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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