Cameras on school buses aim to catch drivers passing illegally

Motorists are getting a lesson in stopping for school buses a week into classes in the Sooke School District.

New exterior red-light cameras installed on 27 of the 41 buses in the district fleet had already snapped 16 pictures by Tuesday afternoon of vehicles committing alleged offences by failing to heed a bus’s stop signal.

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About 4,200 district students take school buses each day.

“It’s been very busy with viewing camera footage,” said Tracey Syrota, the district’s manager of transportation and grounds. “There’s been a lot and it’s still continuing.” She said about nine “red-light runners” were seen on camera in just the first three days of the new school year.

Traffic rules call for vehicles to stop in both directions when a school bus stops and activates its stop indicators, something that Syrota said some people might not know.

“That’s why I truly do believe it’s an education piece,” she said of the cameras. “Educating the public, educating our drivers and also educating our students on the safety in and around the outside of the bus.”

The price isn’t cheap if you’re ticketed for failing to stop for a school bus.

“It’s an escalating cost,” said West Shore RCMP Const. Nancy Saggar. “Basically every time you do it within a period of 12 months the cost associated to the ticket goes up.

“So your first offence is going to be $368 and then there is a penalty of three points, as well. The next time is going to be $668.”

The cost would climb to $8,528 for a 10th offence.

From 2009 to 2014, police gave out 1,100 tickets around B.C. to drivers for passing stopped school buses. There were 14 students injured getting on or off a school bus during that time.

Saggar said the new cameras are “a step in the right direction.”

Disobeying stop signs on school buses is a regular issue, she said, adding that offences are more common for oncoming vehicles than for those behind a bus.

“We routinely do get complaints that are put forward by the district,” Saggar said.

The complaints generally come from the bus drivers themselves, she said.

“Normally, they’re able to capture a licence plate of a vehicle. However, if that vehicle happens to have been speeding really quickly, that becomes difficult and then all we’re left with is just a description of the car.

“So the cameras being put in place would definitely aid police investigations in that regard, and I think it’s a benefit to the district but also to us as officers who are investigating.”

Camera footage can also be presented as evidence in court, Saggar said.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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