The Austin School District is moving forward with a plan to put traffic enforcement cameras on school buses. The decision comes as a middle school student recovers from being rundown by a car this month after she got off her school bus.
Video of traffic violations called, School Bus Stop Arm Running, are a key part of a study presented to AISD last year. Every shot is from a school bus that has stopped on an Austin city road or highway. Each image is a potential disaster for a child.
"They appear out of nowhere to a lot of these drivers and they run these stop signs and the next thing you know we have a situation like my client was hit by a car and she was thrown on to the windshield, breaks some bones, she is lucky she didn't die in this case," said Austin attorney Tony Nguyen who represents 11-year-old Gizelle Pedrosa.
The Martin Middle School student was run down buy a car march 4th after getting off her bus. According to this police report, the driver of the car, Mark Daniel Woods was charged with passing a school bus and driving without a license. Nguyen says his young client is trying to understand why this happened.
"She is going through a tough time right now," said Nguyen.
This study for the Austin school district clearly shows the threat is larger than just one child. As part of a pilot program, AISD last year installed cameras on 30 different school buses. American Traffic Solutions documented more than 1,400 violations between August and December. The report includes a map that marks the location of each violation; most taking place east of I-35. But the problem revealed in the report is actually just the beginning. Two other companies took part of the pilot program and came up with the same results it was enough to commit convince administrators and AISD that the pilot program needed to become permanent
"Alarming, this is a serious issue with every school bus industry," said Kris Hafezi, Director of transportation for AISD.
Hafezi wants cameras on every bus the district owns by the start of the new school year. But to do that a contractor still has to be selected and the city council still has to pass an ordinance allowing the civil citations to be issued.
"The expectation is for the first year there is going to a high number of citations, after that then the culture and the public is more educated about this, that oh my gosh now I can be cited like a red light camera, eventually the number should go down," said Hafezi.
The system would be paid for through citations, but attorney Tony Nguyen believes more needs to be done.
"The cameras are going to help; the problem is the cameras will probably not prevent this.
Along with a major safety education program, Nguyen believes AISD needs a policy change. For him, the best way for kids to avoid the danger is to no longer allow bus drivers to let children cross in the middle of a block. School officials say doing that could create scheduling problems.
The Georgetown and San Marcos Independent School Districts have been using the enforcement cameras for about a year now. Lakeway ISD recently did a pilot study but determined there were not enough violations to justify the cameras. There are also campaigns underway to get the system installed in several other local school districts.