Austin OKs stiffer penalties for drivers who pass school buses

AUSTIN (KXAN) — City leaders passed an ordinance Thursday that will strengthen the penalties for drivers who pass school buses with a stop sign extended. Soon, all Austin Independent School District buses could have cameras to catch drivers breaking the law.

“It’s scary,” said Justo Ramirez, who has been driving buses for nearly 13 years and sees drivers constantly blow past him when the stop arm is out. “It’s definitely the first thing that runs through my mind…please don’t let a kid run in front of the bus because there’s no way the cars going to be able to stop.”

Last year, the district put cameras on 30 of its 500 buses as part of a pilot program. During the eight-month pilot program, nearly 60 drivers a day disregarded this stop sign.

“It’s alarming and it’s a safety concern not only for our city, but throughout the nation,” Kris Hafezi, AISD transportation director, said after seeing video of dozens of vehicles ignore the stop sign and flashing red lights.

AISD and city leaders now want to make it a civil offense every time a driver doesn’t stop, regardless of whether an officer witnesses it. Cameras on all 500 buses would capture license plate information and record video of the violation.

“Children’s lives are in danger when cars don’t pay attention to those signs that the bus is stopping,” said council member Kathie Tovo, “so we really need to take more assertive action.”

Over the last 18 months, police have handed out about 200 citations. Fines for driving past a stopped bus can cost up to $860.

Bus Cameras in Other Districts

Leander ISD: Had a pilot program more than a year ago, but decided against buying cameras to ticket drivers. They would have to coordinate with seven seven city councils and police departments, which would get complicating. On top of that, if the violation occurred outside of city limits, they would essentially have no authority to ticket the driver. They say several of their buses go through three or four cities, so even a few violations along a single route would get very complicated, very fast.

Round Rock ISD: A few buses have red light cameras as part of a pilot program. They have no plans to expand it or begin ticketing drivers.

Eanes ISD: Cameras are installed on their newest buses. They are looking at working with the West Lake Hills city council and police department to begin ticketing drivers sometime in the future. They currently use the cameras to document and keep statistics on drivers passing buses.

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