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Cameras help put a focus on school bus safety

Oct. 30, 2012 @ 12:31 AM

About 26 million elementary and secondary school children across the nation ride school buses each day.

So, safety is a top priority, and focusing more eyes -- and cameras -- on those buses seems to help.

As part of National School Bus Safety Week, West Virginia troopers rode along on buses last week, and pretty quickly found motorists who failed to stop for the buses as they dropped off children. Although school bus accidents are rare, the bus stops are one of the most dangerous parts of the trip. Students are actually more likely to be injured getting on or off of the bus than during the actual ride.

In fact, just a week ago a Nicholas County girl was struck by a car as she was crossing the street after getting off the bus, and her leg was broken. Witnesses said the motorist failed to stop for the school bus's flashing red lights and extended stop arm.

The annual ride-alongs serve as an important reminder to motorists to observe those signals.

"I see a lot of people running my red light, and they just don't care," driver Patrick Blankenship told The Herald-Dispatch last week. "It puts a lot of kids in jeopardy."

To help with enforcement, some buses are equipped with side cameras that can provide video of infractions and even license plate information that can be used to round up careless motorists. That practice should be expanded.

In Maryland, schools have positioned automated speed cameras around schools that trigger when a vehicle is going too fast. The goal was to keep an eye on motorists, but the cameras also have revealed many infractions among bus drivers, as well.

The Baltimore Sun newspaper found that buses, both private and city owned, accumulated more than 800 speed citations in the city in the past two years. Baltimore County public school buses have triggered the cameras more than 100 times.

Needless to say, school officials there are cracking down on the speeding vehicles.

In both cases, the additional video surveillance seems to be worth the investment. Lawmakers in West Virginia in 2010 increased the penalties for failing to stop for a school bus, but focusing more eyes and cameras on the situation will help motorists remember to pay attention to those flashing lights and avoid an accident.

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