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Proposed stop-arm camera law a win for students, state

A proposed bill to improve school bus safety is headed to the Kentucky House of Representatives after passing the House Transportation Committee Tuesday.

We hope to see the bill passed with bipartisan support and hope school districts across the state will adopt the proposed measures to improve the safety of the thousands of students who rely on school buses to get back and forth to school.

House Bill 34 is sponsored by Rep. Robert Goforth (R-East Bernstadt) and would be optional for school districts, but is expected to generate extra funds through fines against drivers recorded illegally passing school buses.

The bill hinges on having cameras attached to school bus stop arms which would record the thousands of drivers estimated to illegally pass school buses daily in Kentucky.

According to a press release from the Legislative Research Commission, “Offenders would face civil fines of $300 for a first offense and $500 for a second offense, with criminal penalties also possible… A 2018 pupil transportation survey indicated that citations could be levied against over 2,660 drivers each day of the school instructional year depending on how many school districts use the cameras.”

Goforth told the committee “that’s 484,000 times a child’s life is put in danger.”

School districts could work with a third-party vendor for installation and maintenance of the cameras at no cost to the districts. The vendor would also be responsible for collection of fines, with the vendor’s compensation based on citations issued.

School districts would receive 80 percent of generated revenue, or as much as $116 million under the proposal, Goforth estimated. Remaining funds — as much as $29 million — would be split between the state Transportation Cabinet and the Kentucky Department of Education.

According to the Kentucky Department of Education, nearly 10,000 school buses transport more than 385,000 students each day.

Kentucky law states when a school bus is stopped on a two-lane roadway or a two-lane roadway with a center turn lane all traffic from both directions must stop. On a four-lane roadway, divided highway with a median or a four-lane roadway with a center turn lane, only the traffic following the bus must stop.

Illegally passing school buses comes with some hefty fines, up to $200 and 60 days in jail for the first offense.

The greatest risk for drivers passing vehicles is that they might cause injury or even death to students boarding or exiting the bus.

However, drivers in other vehicles pass school buses every day, making students most vulnerable while they exiting or boarding the school bus.

Motorists who do not adhere to the law regarding stopping for school buses are putting thousands of students and other motorists at danger.

Passing school buses is not only a problem in Kentucky, tens of thousands of vehicle pass stopped school buses across the U.S. each day, according to a survey from the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation (NASDPTS).

The 2019 NASDPTS National Stop Arm Violation Count found motorists illegally passed stopped school buses in the 39 participating states 95,319 times.

In Kentucky, the survey was taken during a single day in April in which buses were passed illegally 2,653 times.

The problem hits close to home, too, according to Clark County Public Schools transportation officials.

In an August article, Transportation Supervisor Danny Fisher said he typically has at least three bus drivers report illegal passing to his office daily.

While Clark County hasn’t had any incidents of students being struck by passing vehicles, the number of close calls is distressing, Fisher told The Sun.

Fisher recalled one particularly stressful encounter.

“The bus was discharging students at the Phoenix Academy, and a vehicle chose to come around the right side where the student steps off the bus,” Fisher said. “And the driver luckily grabbed the student’s collar before he stepped off because he saw the car coming. And that was so close. It was within five feet of hitting a child.”

Stop arm cameras and stiff penalties for those who illegally pass school buses in Kentucky are key tools to protecting students who rely on school transportation.

If this legislation can follow through with its promises to generate revenue for school districts while protecting ours students and holding those who break the law accountable, it’s a win-win-win situation for the state.

— The Winchester Sun