2014-10-31 / Front Page

Cameras aim at school bus scofflaws

By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer


Matt Kearns, RSU 21 transportation supervisor, points to a camera that was recently installed on a school bus. The cameras, equipped with a wide-angle lens, point to the rear of the bus and are designed to record up to 80 hours. Numerous complaints of vehicles passing stopped school buses created the need for increased monitoring and reporting. 
(Alex Acquisto photo) Matt Kearns, RSU 21 transportation supervisor, points to a camera that was recently installed on a school bus. The cameras, equipped with a wide-angle lens, point to the rear of the bus and are designed to record up to 80 hours. Numerous complaints of vehicles passing stopped school buses created the need for increased monitoring and reporting. (Alex Acquisto photo) KENNEBUNK — Regional School Unit 21 has installed side-arm cameras on three school buses in an effort to deploy consequences to drivers who pass school buses.

Transportation Supervisor Matt Kearns said so far, cameras have been mounted on three buses and two more cameras will be installed within the next few weeks. The cost of one camera, including installation, is approximately $1,000.

The concerted effort to quickly install cameras came after a rise in complaints about vehicles disobeying school bus stop signs throughout RSU 21.

The district currently operates about 40 buses with most regular routes lasting five to six hours each day, Kearns said. While the fleet largely stays within the confines of the district, some buses also travel to Biddeford Regional Center of Technology and Portland Arts and Technology High School.


Amidst the many buttons and switches located directly to the left of the driver’s seat on a school bus, a small, silver button will allow the driver to stamp footage recorded by a camera that monitors vehicle traffic. (Alex Acquisto photo) Amidst the many buttons and switches located directly to the left of the driver’s seat on a school bus, a small, silver button will allow the driver to stamp footage recorded by a camera that monitors vehicle traffic. (Alex Acquisto photo) Last year, the fleet collectively drove half a million miles. So far this year, Kearns said, most of the vehicle violations have occurred within high-traffic zones.

W.C. Cressey & Son donated three cameras, in addition to two that were purchased by the district. Each of the three cameras have been affixed below the stop sign that swings out when the bus stops to let students on or off.

The wide-angle lens faces toward the back of the bus to capture license plates of cars driving in the opposite direction or passing the bus.

Before the cameras were installed, when a driver committed a violation the school bus driver would have to attempt to record incident information while also monitoring the children who were embarking or disembarking — a task which proved to be pretty impossible for most, Kearns said.

“Sometimes, with everything else they’re doing, it can be hard to record license plate information,” he said.

A formal written report is always filed after the fact and given to the district, who then passes it on to the police department.

With a sidearm camera, if a driver notices a violation, he or she can now press a button to the left of the steering wheel, which automatically earmarks the time of the incident in the footage being recorded.

The driver then reports the incident to Kearns, who removes the memory card from the camera and finds the earmarked spot.

“I pull the camera memory card information, I burn it to a DVD. Then, the driver fills out a written statement with what they witnessed, and then the DVD, along with the statement, is given to the police department,” Kearns said.

The department will contact the vehicle owner and issue a summons. The minimum penalty for a first offense in Maine, confirmed by Kennebunk Police Chief Bob MacKenzie, is $250.

“We’re hoping that the word gets out and that people take it seriously,” said MacKenzie, who referenced a “zero tolerance policy” on the matter. “(The cameras) will obviously assist us in our efforts of tracking those people down, but this is a proactive step toward getting people to generally just pay more attention because they know that there are cameras on school buses,” MacKenzie said.

Many drivers who violate bus laws might not even know they are committing an infraction, Superintendent Kevin Crowley said. In that case, it is the town’s job to ensure that residents become aware.

“School bus safety and the laws that govern this as it relates to vehicular traffic have become over time less and less adhered to. More and more we were hearing complaints of autos passing stopped school busses, etc.,” said Selectman Al Searles. “I felt too many of these incidents were occurring, to the point that it became just a matter of time that one of our children would become injured solely because someone chose to ignore one of the basic rules we all learn when obtaining our driver’s license.”

The district is “considering” installing cameras on all school buses, Crowley said.

“We would certainly want at least half the buses covered,” he said. “That way, we could swap buses with the cameras installed if one bus route seemed to be indicating more activity than another.”

The district isn’t considering old buses as much as it is installing the cameras on new buses as old ones are retired, Kearns said. Each bus’ life is, on average, about 15 years.

While cameras will help to supplement and corroborate drivers’ accounts of violations, many town and district officials believe truncating violations also has to come from a shift of understanding within the community.

“A good part of our efforts are centered on driver awareness of the issue,” Crowley said. “The teachers, parents, and students in the communities served by RSU 21 all appreciate the comprehensive approach that is being taken to help make all drivers aware of the concern.”

In addition to the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen naming September and October School Bus Safety months, the district has partnered with the Kennebunk Police Department and Video Creations to create a public service announcement about school bus safety.

The district has also replaced and relocated traffic signage within and around school property.

“A look at the national statistics tells us we all need to slow down, put away the cell phones, and stay focused on what is happening in front of us. The last thing anyone wants is to be part of an accident that did not need to happen,” Crowley said, before referring to statistics issued by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration: “An average of 19 school-age children die in school transportation related crashes each year. More school-age pedestrians have been killed between the hours of 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. than any other time of day.

“As long as school buses and motorists share the road, there will be an ongoing concern about student safety,” Crowley said. “We are simply helping to remind each motorist of their responsibilities when they get behind the steering wheel of their car.”

Want to comment on this story? Visit our website at www.post.mainelymediallc.com and let us know your thoughts.

Return to top