Montgomery County Police say new cameras on some county school buses will be installed and ready for action by early January to catch drivers who illegally pass the buses.
The cameras will automatically record drivers who pass a stopped bus while its stop arm is extended with flashing red lights. Violators will have to pay a $125 fine, according to an Oct. 22 memo from County Council staff.
Cameras will be installed on 25 school buses that run routes with the highest number of passing incidents. Wiring for the cameras will be installed on another 75 buses so the cameras can be swapped among the buses. County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said the cameras will be active by Jan. 3.
The county also has the ability to purchase up to 75 additional cameras during its contract, according to the memo.
The County Council enacted a law in March 2012 that enabled police to install and operate cameras on school buses to catch drivers who pass the vehicles when they are stopped and operating their flashing red lights.
Speaking on Thursday at a joint meeting of the County Council’s education and public safety committees, Manger said a vendor contract was in the works and the police department had signed a memorandum of understanding with Montgomery County Public Schools.
As of the Thursday meeting, the county attorney was still reviewing the police and school system’s agreement before approving it, said county spokesman Patrick Lacefield.
Manger attributed the delay in getting the program up and running to the police department’s unsuccessful attempt to bridge a contract with another jurisdiction. The department eventually turned to a request for proposal process.
The police department also had a difficult time finding similar programs in the country to analyze, he said. Manger said the issue was related to the police department’s efforts to analyze other bus camera programs.
“Make no mistake, we were trying to look at what other jurisdictions were doing,” he said. “Much of the delay for this had nothing to do with the procurement process.”
Manger said he thinks the cameras coupled with county police’s public education campaign scheduled to start in December will mean more drivers will be aware of the law.
According to the Oct. 22 memo, revenue from the cameras will depend on variables including the “structure of the contract” and the violations that occur.
Manger said the cameras are not about making money.
“It’s about the fact it makes the roadways safer,” he said.
County Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg said he thinks it’s important the cameras are publicized.
“This is a crucial public safety measure the public needs to be aware of,” Andrews said.
Andrews said police should cast “a large shadow” to help minimize violations around the county, while focusing the cameras on the routes where the most violations happen.
County Council Vice President Craig Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said his daughter was recently almost hit by a vehicle that illegally passed a bus and that he had chased down the driver.
“I’ve seen it firsthand,” Rice said, describing some drivers who “disregard” buses signalling for them to stop.
County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring — who voiced her frustration at the program’s delay in August — said it was “astounding” to her how many drivers don’t know the rules.
“I see it happening all the time,” she said.
Todd Watkins, director of transportation for the school system, said in a previous interview that the new cameras will automatically detect a violation and send the evidence, which will be confirmed by both a contractor and the police before a ticket is sent out.
Of about 1,270 total buses in the school system, roughly 400 currently have cameras that run continuously, he said. If a bus driver believes they were illegally passed, the school system is able to go back and examine the footage and pass it on to police who can send out a warning notice.