American Traffic Solutions Inc. will begin installing cameras and sensors on bus arms next month after entering into a five-year agreement with the Newton County School System and the Newton County Sheriff's Office to catch more violations of vehicles that illegally pass stopped buses. -Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn Smith
COVINGTON -- If you are used to driving past stopped school buses without fear of repercussions, there is a higher probability you will be fined in the future.
The Newton County School System has entered into a five-year agreement with American Traffic Solutions Inc. and the Newton County Sheriff's Office that would implement a bus arm camera program aimed at catching more violators.
The Newton County Board of Education recently unanimously approved the agreement recommended by NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews, and ATS plans to begin installing cameras on about 10 percent -- or 23 to 24 buses -- next month, according to Michael Barr, director of Support Services at NCSS.
"Annually, the school system participates in a school bus stop arm violation survey conducted by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services," Barr said. "The school system and ATS will use the data collected in this survey to identify those routes that would most benefit from the installation of the cameras."
In the past, bus drivers were responsible for writing down vehicle tag numbers and information of those individuals who would not stop for buses while picking up or letting students off buses.
"Generally, that led to no reports," said Dr. Dennis Carpenter, NCSS deputy superintendent of Operations.
Barr said eight students were killed at bus stops around the state this year, and Dan Hoven, vice president of business development for ATS, said Georgia seems to be one of the states with a high rate of accidents involving a school bus.
"It's a serious issue, and we want to do everything we can," Barr said.
The video cameras' sensors pick up motions of approaching vehicles when a bus is stopped and will record a video capturing violations. Information will be loaded to a local video recorder that ATS officials will review and electronically forward to the NCSO for further review. ATS then will mail violations and citations to violators.
Penalties generally range from $300 for the first offense to $1,000 for the third offense within a five-year period.
For violators who dispute a ticket, ATS will provide evidence packages that could include prior notices, if applicable, and videos that show the violation, Hoven said.
Additionally, ATS officials remotely test the program each day.
"It's been very well accepted throughout the country, especially Georgia," Hoven said.
ATS is under contract with more than 3,500 governmental systems, and more than 1.2 million violations are processed monthly. The company is headquartered in Arizona with regional offices throughout the nation, including Atlanta.
Systems in Alpharetta, Athens, Clayton County, Gwinnett County and Marietta, among others, currently partner with ATS.
ATS handles all up-front costs like maintenance and camera installation, and there will be no costs to NCSS, Hoven said.
The program is funded through fines for violations, which will be split among ATS, NCSS and NCSO.
During the first year of service, ATS will receive 75 percent of the revenue share, while NCSS and NCSO each will receive 12.5; year two, ATS will get 60 percent with the other two agencies will receive 20 percent each; and from years three through five, ATS will receive 50 percent, while the other two will get 25 percent each, according to the agreement.
For the remaining buses without cameras, the NCSS transportation department continues to train drivers how to handle traffic violations.
"We work on safety all of the time," Barr said. "School buses remain the safest way for students to ride to and from school."
The department conducts annual driver evaluations and training and attempts to create public awareness of the importance of stopping for buses, Barr said.