Bus cameras: Bad for drivers, good for revenue

by: Joanna Small Updated:

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PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. —

A device that could save lives -- that's what one south Sound school district is calling cameras that catch drivers endangering children getting on and off the school bus.  Starting next month the Bethel School District in Pierce County will be the second in the state to get the cameras on nearly a dozen buses for free.  The district and the company that runs the cameras will actually make money. 

"These kids' lives are in my hands.  These parents don't know me.  They entrust the school district with me coming to pick up their kids,” Maurice Davis tells us.  And the Bethel School District bus driver says he trusts himself but he knows he can't trust every other driver on the road; he says every day he sees someone blow right by his stop sign. 

"As a driver you just honk, try to get their license plate,” Davis explains.  “It happens so quickly it's almost impossible." 

Davis is excited Bethel is testing out new bus cameras that will take a picture of the plate for him.  Here’s how it works:  There will be two cameras on each of the 10 participating buses -- one video, one still. They'll be mounted right behind the stop paddle and will only turn on when the paddle comes out. 

The company providing the cameras, American Traffic Solutions, reviews the footage and submits video of violators to police.   In exchange, the company gets an 18 percent cut of each $394 fine.  Last year we told you about a UC Berkeley study that showed in one day Washington drivers had 1,500 of these violations. 

"We didn't know that until we started looking at the data and talking to bus drivers,” said Rick Felt with American Traffic Solutions. “When you do the math it becomes pretty lucrative for everybody." 

The district says more importantly it gives drivers like Davis one less thing to worry about. 

"This is going to be a tool to allow them to keep their mind on their driving and watching the kids rather than worrying about what other cars are doing,” explains Karen Campbell, Bethel’s Transportation Director. 

The Highline School District in King County signed a contract with ATS last year and will have its cameras ready next month-- about the same time as Bethel, and ticketing for both will start at the end of the year.  All money the schools make has to go towards safety and security improvements