SHCSC beefs up stop-arm safety measures
The South Harrison Community School Corp. has upgraded and added new cameras to several buses in its fleet in an effort to catch drivers who run the stop arms that extend when children are boarding or exiting buses.
About $3,500 worth of equipment was purchased by the Harrison County Prosecutor’s Office for the buses using money seized from drug dealers.
Prosecutor J. Otto Schalk said he was immediately on board when South Harrison administrators approached him with the idea because old technology made it difficult to hold stop-arm violators accountable.
‘We have always seen a constant struggle with prosecuting people who run the stop signs,’ he said.
The new cameras will record in a higher definition than the old technology, allowing bus drivers to focus on the road and the safety of the children, Schalk said, rather than trying to catch and write down the license plate numbers of those who pass unsafely.
Recent legislation also had made it easier to hold stop-arm violators accountable, he said.
On July 1, Indiana Senate Enrolled Act 2 went into effect, which stiffened penalties for drivers who fail to stop when a stop arm is extended.
A violation of the stop-arm law that results in death is now a felony under the new act, and a court can suspend an individual’s driver’s license for recklessly passing or failing to stop for a school bus.
The first offense for an individual will result in a 90-day suspension, and someone with a previous offense can receive a one-year suspension.
SEA 2 is the state’s legislative response to last year’s death of three Fulton County children after a driver failed to stop for a bus while the children were attempting to cross the highway to get on the bus.
‘Unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy to facilitate change,’ Schalk said, adding that he is happy legislators made the issue a priority.
South Harrison’s superintendent, Dr. Mark Eastridge, said while he’s sure the cameras will help hold some drivers accountable for unsafe driving, he hopes they won’t have to send tapes often to the prosecutor’s office.
‘It’s not a ‘gotcha’ device; it’s just to be watching, to be vigilant,’ he said. ‘It’s to help avoid a tragedy.’
Already being put to use, Schalk said the new cameras captured three clear-cut violations just last week that his office is now investigating.
Brad DeVore, transportation coordinator for SHCSC, said stop-arm cameras have been in use at SH schools since he started working for the corporation four years ago. He said the new cameras are a major upgrade for the buses because they are able to record traffic in front of and behind the vehicle in greater detail than the older cameras, most of which only pointed behind the bus and were unreliable when it came to capturing license plate numbers.
‘The technology has improved enough now, and, like with cell phones and anything else, the costs have come down enough for us,’ DeVore said.
The new cameras have the stop arms visible in their footage so drivers who run a sign will not be able to argue that the footage of them passing was taken before or after the sign was extended. DeVore said this will help make Schalk’s job easier when prosecuting individuals for violations.
Eastridge said he doesn’t know if Harrison County drivers are worse than other communities’ drivers when it comes to running the signs, but he’s seen it happen enough to warrant taking steps to further combat it.
‘Whenever you have individuals running stop signs, that can very easily create an unsafe situation for children,’ he said.
Eastridge said while the violations are more likely to happen on urban roads with many lanes of traffic, no community can be immune from drivers who just aren’t paying attention to the road.
‘This is just my opinion, but, today, with the advent of cell phones and texting, drivers seem to be distracted,’ Eastridge said.
DeVore said the cameras will be a deterrent against dangerous driving but also a look into the safety of drop-off points for the school corporation. He said if there are repeated stop-arm violations in a particular spot, administrators will aim to arrange a safer pick-up point rather than ticketing drivers over and over again while the children remain at risk.
Looking ahead, Schalk said he anticipates an arrangement with North Harrison and Lanesville school corporations to soon take the new technology to their schools.
He reminds drivers that even with a double-yellow line, all vehicles must obey the stop arms.
‘Unless there is a physical barrier, like a median (between your lane and the bus), you need to stop,’ Schalk said.