By Linda Dillman
If you’re a motorist in Canal Winchester thinking of passing a school bus with its red lights flashing, think again.
You could end up starring in a video of your indiscretion that is forwarded to law enforcement for citation. The result? Two points on your driving record and a hefty fine of up to $500 for a first offense.
According to Canal Winchester Schools Superintendent James Sotlar, four buses in the district fleet are now outfitted with outside cameras with plans for more as new buses replace older models.
“We initially installed the cameras for discipline control, but now, the outside cameras are being installed to catch and document drivers running reds of the bus,” said Sotlar. “All buses have inside cameras. We will continue to equip new buses with outside cameras. We report about 120 drivers each year for running school bus red lights. We equipped two buses about five years ago, but found they didn’t have the quality to read a license plate if the car was going 45 mph or more. Now, better technology exists, and we have started equipping buses again.”
According to Sotlar, the cost is about $5,000 per bus, which includes cameras and a CB radio. Whenever the district gets rid of a bus, cameras and system hard-drives are recycled. The cost is approximately $1,000 to move cameras/radio/antenna from one bus to another.
Cameras are on constantly. Each bus driver has a button they can push to tag an incident, enabling video personnel to quickly find and download when a motorist passes a bus while its red lights are flashing.
“We have a form that drivers fill out, which we submit it to the appropriate jurisdiction—Columbus city; Fairfield County Sheriff – for both Canal Winchester city and Fairfield County or Madison Township,” said Sotlar. “We also will submit the video if the jurisdiction requires it. Some will move forward without video, just on the word of the driver.”
Sotlar said Gender Road and Winchester Pike are two areas of higher concentration involving incidents. He said the Ohio State Highway Patrol is cooperative about targeting those areas.
“For example, just this past Tuesday, a patrolman asked where we were having red-light problems and then patrolled that area during our bus routes,” said Sotlar. “From my viewing of video, over half of our violations are drivers looking down in their laps and not paying attention. I would assume they are looking at an electronic device.”
The basic rules for approaching a slowing or stopped bus are the same as approaching a stoplight. When lights are blinking yellow, a driver should slow down and stop in their lane when lights are blinking red.
If the bus is stopped on a street or road which has fewer than four lanes, all traffic approaching the bus from either direction must stop at least 10 feet from the front or rear of the bus and remain stopped until the bus begins to move or the bus driver signals motorists to proceed.
“Even if the bus lights are not working, an officer could ticket a driver who doesn’t stop,” Sotlar said.