After three weeks in operation in the Alberni Valley school district, surveillance cameras have captured the plate numbers of 15 drivers — about one a day — who illegally passed school buses with red lights flashing.
The new multi-purpose surveillance system has been installed on the district’s fleet of seven school buses at a cost of $65,000, which includes external cameras to monitor drivers and internal cameras to monitor student behaviour.
Greg Roe, director of operations for School District 70, said the system serves multiple purposes.
“We’re seeing so many benefits, it’s quite impressive,” Roe said. “Probably the primary benefit is identifying the number of people passing our buses when the red lights are flashing.”
Once digital images are captured, licence plates of violators are provided to the RCMP, who can then impose penalties under the Motor Vehicle Act.
Three years ago, the fine for passing a school bus with red lights flashing in B.C. was increased to $368 from $147. As well, violations bring a penalty of three demerit points on their auto insurance. A second offence results in a $300 increase in ICBC premiums. After a third offence, that amounts to $640 plus the fine for a total penalty of $1,018.
Registered owners are fined whether or not they were driving at the time of the offence.
School districts receive an annual transportation allowance from the provincial government and trustees decided to invest this year’s sum into the surveillance system, Roe said.
While there have been no recent traffic-related accidents involving school buses in the district, safety is a continual concern. Bus drivers tried to monitor vehicle compliance with the no-passing law, but it was always difficult to obtain plate numbers, Roe said. Having high-definition images gives greater assurance that violators will face consequences.
Five internal cameras are intended to discourage vandalism, bullying, smoking and other unacceptable behavior aboard buses. They enable the driver to concentrate fully on driving, improving safety for all.
“It basically gives the driver five eyes to watch the bus. If they see something they can push a button to flag the video.”
The same system is equipped with global positioning system technology for fixing location and can be used to track student movement should it become necessary to confirm the location of a student.
Starting in September, students will be able to use a tap pass to board the buses, another feature tied to the system.
Deterrence should help to improve compliance and safety, Roe said. The district hopes that drivers will be more mindful of the law once the message gets out.
“We’re just trying to keep everybody safe,” he said.
Cpl. Amelia Hayden of Port Alberni RCMP said the technology provides police with clear evidence.
She restated the law for those who may be unclear: “It’s illegal for motorists to pass any school bus when it’s stopped with stop signs and flashing lights activated.”
The danger lies with students boarding and disembarking from the bus. A driver could easily miss seeing a student crossing the road or stepping out from in front of the bus, Hayden said.
“Hopefully this will drive the message home to motorists about the importance and safety of our young people. We’re determined to help keep our students safe,” she added. “So far we have noticed that several of these infractions have occurred on the bus routes that stop on Mission Road at Hwy. 4 and also along the Johnston Road corridor.”