AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Independent School District’s stop-arm cameras on buses have caught approximately 33 percent more drivers running the stop signs in 2017 compared to 2016.
The district installed the cameras in 2016, they record automatically every time the stop sign is deployed from the bus, issuing violators citations. The district hoped these cameras would deter drivers from passing or not stopping for school buses, but instead, they’ve found that the number of drivers they’re catching is on the rise.
While the district says 98 percent of those ticketed do not re-offend, the number of overall citations are on the rise. When AISD implemented the cameras in February 2016, the district issued 12,936 citations. Whereas, in 2017, 17,244 citations were given.
According to the data, 62 percent of the violations came from vehicles registered in Austin.
“Our school bus safety stop-arm program is working to change driver behavior in Austin. Data illustrates that residents are more aware about school bus safety and this important issue,” said AISD executive director of transportation Kris Hafezizadeh.
Hafezizadeh pointed out that while there are clusters incidents with drivers not stopping for school buses in northeast Austin and southeast Austin, schools across the city are still feeling the impact.
Hafezizadeh made a plea to Austin drivers: be safe around school buses. After talking with police, he believes that while some of these violations may come from people being uninformed about traffic laws, he believes distracted driving and cellphones play a significant role in the large number of violators.
“Put away things that can [make you] distracted while driving, pay attention to our school buses, do not pass them, and also pay attention to all of our students walking and biking to school,” Hafezizadeh said.
The district does make some money from the citations, “but it’s not about the money,” Hafezizadeh insisted. “It’s not about the fine, just please a stop, it only takes a few seconds, a few seconds versus the life of the child.”
He added that many people contest these citations, currently less than 60 percent of people cited wind up paying the fine. Hafezizadeh said the district hopes to increase that percentage.
According to data compiled by the company AISD contracted for the stop sign cameras, the peak times for these violations are at 7 a.m., 4 p.m. and on Wednesdays.
“We’ve got the most precious cargo in the whole world in our care, and the loading and unloading aspect of the day is the most dangerous part of their day statistically,” said Steve Stripling, who has been driving buses for more than two decades.
Currently, Stripling oversees more than 200 buses at the Nelson Terminal for the Austin ISD Transportation Department.
“These are our babies on the bus, and when it happens, it’s hurtful and it’s scary, and they’re offended by it, the bus drivers are,” Stripling said. He noted his bus drivers will come to him frustrated after reckless cars put their kids in danger, and thanks to the cameras he now has evidence to turn to in backing up what they saw.
Since the program began, cameras have captured at least six incidents where a student was hit by a driver who failed to stop for the bus.
The fine for failing to stop for a school bus in Austin is $300 when caught on camera. Drivers could face fines as much as $1,250 if caught by a police officer.