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Cameras installed on about half of school buses

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry BusPatrol Installer Evan Buege installs a BusPatrol side camera on the side of a Warren Bus Lines bus.

The installation of BusPatrol cameras on school buses in Warren County is under way.

The cameras will monitor conditions inside and outside the buses — hopefully resulting in a reduction of behavior problems on the buses and a reduction of unsafe and illegal driving outside.

Warren County School District and police officials held a press conference Wednesday morning to announce the progress.

“Over the past several years, we’ve had numerous complaints about people running the red lights on school buses,” Transportation Manager Mike Kiehl said.

Bus drivers have other things to worry about than getting a description and full license plate information of vehicles that violate the law.

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry A BusPatrol side camera is installed behind the stop sign on a Warren Bus Lines bus.

“With the new BusPatrol video cameras… we will have a complete 360-degree view” around every bus in the fleet,” Kiehl said. “The bus drivers are very excited. They have struggled to get license plate numbers.”

The drivers are also looking forward to whatever behavioral benefit the cameras bring to the passengers on the bus, he said. “The kids are going to know that we have cameras on the buses.”

“It’s going to help (drivers) be even more attentive to their driving,” Superintendent Amy Stewart said. “That’s what they need to worry about. I can either spend my time as a driver looking backwards at kids’ behavior or forwards making sure that they have a safer ride.”

The drivers will not be able to view any of the footage while they are on the buses. Kiehl said there is a push-button system that will allow drivers to bring attention to certain points in the video.

“We are the first school district in western Pennsylvania to add these cameras on all our buses,” Kiehl said.

There will be nine or 10 cameras installed on every bus. They include GPS equipment and enough artificial intelligence to determine when a school bus stopping law violation is taking place. When that camera determines there is a violation, it starts the cameras that are in position to record the license plate of the offending vehicle.

“The cost to the district is $0,” Kiehl said. “The cost to the taxpayers is $0.”

Civil penalties assessed to motorists who are caught in violation will pay BusPatrol for equipment, installation, and ongoing service.

Law enforcement agencies are also entitled to a portion of the dollars from the fines.

Video of an offense is clipped by BusPatrol personnel and sent to the department with jurisdiction where officers decide whether to move forward with the civil procedure against the vehicle’s owner. “The school district doesn’t view it at all,” Kiehl said.

The civil penalty is $300.

If police personally witness a school bus stopping law violation, the fine is $250 plus costs, a drivers license suspension of up to 60 days, and five points on their license.

City of Warren Police Chief Joe Sproveri said during the press conference that a department officer witnessed a stopping law violation and wrote a citation Wednesday morning.

“We’re supportive of the project,” Sproveri said. “It’s going to give us an efficient way to enforce and identify the violations which will in turn provide accountability for the motorists. Ultimately, our goal is keeping kids safer on the bus. This isn’t a money-making thing. This is an education thing and a safety thing.”

“People need to slow down, use their heads, and be safe,” he said.

Kiehl estimated that there are 10 to 12 calls per month reporting vehicles that pass buses with their lights and signs activated.

BusPatrol crews are currently installing cameras on buses in four of the five bus contractor’s in the county. The fifth will begin shortly.

As of Wednesday morning, crews had completed work on about 40 buses — half the fleet — and can finish about 11 per day.

There is no cost to the district nor the taxpayers for the project. BusPatrol will be compensated by the fines levied against those who violate the school bus stopping law and are caught due to the presence of the cameras.

“It was never one of our objectives to go out and have people be cited,” Stewart said. “That’s not our goal. Our goal is to make sure our environments around our bus pickups… are safer for kids.”

“Running transportation in this school district is a really big deal,” Stewart said. “Our district is the second-largest geographic school district in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Our buses and vans run 10,500 miles every day.”

“We really want to make sure people are paying attention to those yellows and those reds,” Stewart said. “We really want people slowing down because there are little people all around those buses every day that we need to keep safe.”

According to Ray Winslow of BusPatrol, “98 percent of people who get a ticket will never do it again.”

The district and BusPatrol expect the installation of cameras to be done by the end of the month.

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