By Erica Thomas, managing editor
LEEDS — The Leeds Police Department has had success with a new addition to school buses. The Leeds City School System recently added rear and front tag reader cameras to all buses within the system after receiving numerous complaints about cars passing stopped buses.
The school system spent $40,000 outfitting 15 buses with cameras back in December 2020. When the system purchased 15 new buses, school system leaders opted to have those buses outfitted as well. Now, all buses have the feature.
When buses are stopped, their stop sign deploys and flashing lights warn drivers that students are entering or exiting the bus. However, Leeds City Schools Superintendent John Moore said that hasn’t been enough to stop dangerous driving behavior.
“We had a real problem and I think most communities do,” Moore said. “People have just become very lax and irresponsible.”
National School Bus Safety Week is every year in October. In 2020, the theme was “Red Lights Mean STOP!” The National Association for Pupil Transportation reported that 98 pedestrians under the age of 18 were killed in school transportation crashes between 2007 and 2016. Furthermore, in 2018, over 108,000 school bus drivers observed almost 84,000 vehicles illegally passing school buses in a single day.
School bus stop-arm cameras are not able to stop incidents but they are able to bring those to justice who decide to ignore the warnings.
The Leeds Police Department released a PSA on the matter to spread the word. Chief Jim Atkinson said his officers are working hard to ticket offenders.
“We’re going to enforce it,” said Atkinson. “Anybody that runs around that bus when it’s flashing, it’s going to get their tag number and take a picture of them and we’re going to run them down and give them a ticket.”
The Leeds City School System has never had an incident with injuries involving drivers passing stopped school buses but Leeds City Schools Transportation Director Lee Gibson said the cameras are a proactive approach to preventing such incidents.
“Our bus drivers do a really good job of not opening the doors until they’re sure that oncoming traffic is stopped,” said Gibson. “They seem to think that people are getting the message that they have to stop at the stop signs.”
Gibson said as of Thursday, April 29, 57 citations had been issued to drivers, thanks to the cameras.
The penalty for illegally passing a school bus is $500 plus court costs.
“It’s all about child safety and we have had problems with complaints from the bus drivers that they will be stopped with their flashing lights and people will just come on around them,” Chief Atkinson added. “Either they’re on their cell phone and not paying attention or just not paying attention but it’s definitely dangerous for these kids getting on and off school buses and if you do that, we’re going to get you.”
As for parents, Gibson said they can rest assured their students are as safe as possible when boarding a Leeds City school bus.
“Know that our drivers are very experienced drivers and they are doing all that they can to make sure at every stop that their child is safe getting on and off the bus,” Gibson said.