Iowa City school bus cameras watching motorists

The stop-arm cameras will help catch drivers who pass school buses illegally

By the time the next school year rolls around, Iowa City Community School District buses will be equipped with external-facing video cameras to help catch those who disobey the law.

The so-called stop-arm cameras will help document violations when motorists pass a school bus when the stop-arm is extended.

“One of our biggest concerns is other drivers,” Superintendent Stephen Murley said. “We continue to face challenges of motorists passing school buses even when stop-arms are deployed.”

The installation of the cameras is part of a broader upgrade of the district’s camera system, and a comprehensive focus on safety and security districtwide, Murley said.

Stop-arm violations currently are documented from the memory of school bus drivers, who must file a report with time, location, license plate number and vehicle description. Police take the report and must issue a ticket, which carries a hefty penalty, if the description matches.

Officials with the Johnson County attorney’s Office and the Iowa City Police Department are in favor of the bus cameras.

“Any time there is video surveillance, it makes evidence stronger for prosecution purposes,” Iowa City Police Sgt. Scott Gaarde said.

The Iowa Department of Education has not taken a stance on stop-arm cameras, but a 2013 study by University of Iowa and Iowa State University — funded in part by the education department — found cameras could enhance safety.

Clear-Creek Amana doesn’t have plans to install the cameras, and Linn-Mar didn’t respond to inquiries.

“External cameras are very expensive, and there have been some issues with clarity and durability,” Denny Schreckengast, transportation manager with the Cedar Rapids Community School District, said in an email. “Iowa winter road conditions are very hard on them. We are considering them, but not committing to at this time.”

In Iowa City, the school district’s Chief Operating Officer David Dude, point person for the project, said by email the installation has been going on for several months, and he doesn’t recall when it was discussed with the school board, but it would have “likely been at operations committee meetings and when the contract was brought to the board.”

Dude said that four cameras per bus will be included in the upgrade. It’s is not clear how the others will be used.

“The new camera system includes four cameras on each bus and the ability for administrators to automatically download a portion of video based on date/time when needed after the bus returns to the bus lot,” Dude said.

Dude and bus company Durham School Services did not respond to specific questions about upgrade costs or the scope of the larger camera upgrade.

Chris Lynch, the school board president and chairman of the operations committee, said he was not part of the discussions about the cameras and it likely occurred before he joined the board last fall.

“I think it’s purely done for safety and security of our kids,” Lynch said.

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What the law says about passing a school bus:

--Approaching a bus from the rear, if the amber or red lights are on, motorists cannot pass a school bus. The vehicle must stop at least 15 feet from the bus when the stop-arm is extended, and not pass until the stop-arm is retracted.

--From the opposite direction, if the amber lights are on motorists must slow to 20 miles per hour and be prepared to stop when the stop-arm is activated.

--The bus driver is required to turn the flashing lights on 150 feet from its stopping point on a road that is less than 45 miles per hour, and 300 feet on a road that is greater than 45 miles per hour.

--Motorists traveling in the opposite direction as a school bus do not need to stop if traveling on a highway with two or more lanes in each direction.

Source: Iowa Code

Penalties for passing a school bus:

--First offense, simple misdemeanor — At least $250 fine, but not more than $675. The court may order imprisonment not to exceed 30 days in lieu of or in addition to a fine. The Iowa DOT will impose a 30-day suspension.

--Second offense, serious misdemeanor — At least $315, but not more than $1,875 fine. The court also may order imprisonment not to exceed one year. The Iowa DOT will impose a 90-day suspension.

--Third and subsequent offenses, serious misdemeanor — At least $315, but not more than $1,875 fine. The court also may order imprisonment not to exceed one year. The Iowa DOT will impose a 180-day suspension

—Violators also may be required to purchase high risk insurance for up to two years.

Source: Iowa Department of Transportation

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