To kick off the school year, the Kutztown School District unveiled new cameras that were installed on buses to improve student safety.
Participating in a new safety program with BusPatrol, Kutztown’s buses have been equipped with safety technology, including stop-arm cameras at no cost, to help improve road safety this school year.
“Fortunately, accidents involving students getting on or off the bus are rare, but every day thousands of violations occur in Pennsylvania,” Superintendent Christian T. Temchatin said.
Often, the district receives reports of stop-arm violations along Route 222 in Maxatawny Township, where traffic is heavy during arrival and dismissal for schools, he said.
“One resident is responsible for introducing me to the BusPatrol program,” said Temchatin.
After witnessing several stop-arm violations per day in front of his property on Route 222, the resident, whose name was not provided, called the superintendent to share a newspaper article about the BusPatrol pilot program in the Allentown School District.
“This resident’s advocacy, along with additional reports of violations from residents and parents, led to KASD partnering with BusPatrol through this new legislation,” Temchatin said. “Hopefully, the program will serve as a deterrent for all drivers resulting in greater safety for children and families.”
All 22 of Kutztown’s buses have stop-arm cameras.
“Several parents have reached out with positive comments,” Temchatin said. “Any measure to improve students’ safety is a positive for the district and parents.”
Kutztown Police Chief Craig M. Summers said that from his perspective this technology is a great tool to catch the motorist who violates the stop-arm laws and holds them accountable.
“I think of it as a body camera for buses,” Summers said. “It’s pretty difficult to refute the video evidence, which will then hopefully reduce the repeat offenders once they are caught and ultimately lead to safer bus stops for the kids.”
“Kutztown Area School District is grateful and excited to partner with BusPatrol, Kutztown Borough Police and the Pennsylvania State Police to provide the level of safety our students, families and bus drivers deserve through this brilliant legislation,” Temchatin said. “Citizen advocacy drove this initiative from Allentown to Harrisburg to Kutztown.”
Mother advocates for school bus safety
Amber Clark often wears an octagon-shaped necklace, meant to mimic the outline of a stop sign, as a nod to the state legislation she helped pass to keep children safe while getting on and off school buses.
Clark reached out to state Sen. Pat Browne, a Lehigh County Republican, and began advocating for cameras on school buses in 2018 after her daughter Olivia Clark-Ortiz was nearly hit by a car while trying to get on the school bus at 14th and Allen streets in Allentown on her third day of kindergarten.
The passage of Senate Bill 1098, which was sponsored by Browne and championed by Clark, allows for cameras to be placed on school buses to address illegal passing. As a result, school buses will be equipped with safety cameras this school year in the Allentown, Bethlehem Area, Northwestern Lehigh and Kutztown school districts.
“I always knew it would happen,” said Clark, whose daughter attends Arts Academy Charter School in Allentown. “My goal was to get a law passed, and I was not going to give up.”
Clark also worked with Reps. Mike Schlossberg and Peter Schweyer, both Lehigh County Democrats, to get the bill passed in the state House, allowing Pennsylvania to become the 25th state in the country with such a law.
“We are here because Amber got angry,” Schlossberg said at a press conference Wednesday, Aug. 24, at South Mountain Middle School, where school bus camera technology was unveiled. “Amber got angry that countless car drivers violated extended stop arms and endangered the life of her daughter and her classmates. And I cannot begin to stress what Amber did and why it was so important. Because of her hard work, she passed a law.”
Drivers are required to stop at least 10 feet away from a school bus that has its stop arm out and red lights flashing, but that doesn’t always deter drivers from speeding by. With the help of camera technology from the company BusPatrol, the districts will be able to capture the image of drivers speeding by and work with local police to make sure drivers receive a citation.
This program serves as a deterrent to drivers who know they may be identified and fined for illegal passing. BusPatrol founder Jean Souliere said the contestation rate for tickets issued as a result of the company’s cameras is 4.8%, and about 96-98% of those ticketed nationwide through BusPatrol are not cited for illegal passing again.
BusPatrol, which was founded in 2017, doesn’t charge districts anything because it is funded through the $300 citations issued to drivers for illegally passing.
Buses outfitted with BusPatrol technology can have up to 14 total cameras, including side cameras that can capture a photo spanning up to eight lanes away from the bus.
The Bethlehem Area School District piloted BusPatrol’s camera technology last school year, and within 16 school days, buses in the district had already recorded 267 violations.
“We recognized that there was a problem mostly from the anecdotal stories that our drivers were telling us,” said Jenny Robinson, district transportation general manager. “We know how difficult it is for them to not only witness the scary part of a car passing their stop arm and potentially putting their kids in danger, but also the greater difficulty of being able to get enough information about that incident to be able to report it to law enforcement.”
Allentown similarly piloted BusPatrol’s cameras in 2019, and within 47 days the district recorded 205 instances of cars illegally passing a school bus.
Allentown is primarily a walking district, Superintendent John Stanford said, but the district does have 5,000 students who take a school bus each day. These include special education students, charter school students and students who live near especially dangerous roads. The district also busses students to Lehigh Career & Technical Institute and Lehigh Carbon Community College.
This fall Allentown will have 140 buses equipped with BusPatrol cameras; Bethlehem will have 120 buses with cameras; and Northwestern Lehigh will have cameras on 41 buses.
Northwestern Lehigh Superintendent Jennifer Holman said the technology will be helpful for her district because students don’t have access to a sidewalk to wait for the bus and winding back country roads can be dangerous as drivers navigate hills and short lines of sight.
Holman said educating drivers about the law around stopping for school buses will also be an important part of school bus safety for districts this school year.
“We’re hoping to obviously educate people, so they know what the rules are when they encounter a school bus if they have forgotten or didn’t know,” she said. “Ultimately, the whole program is to make it safer for every child who rides a school bus in Northwestern and all the other districts that are participating.”
Source: Berkshire mont