Proposed red light camera ban may put a stop to safety measure used by schools

State lawmakers are on the verge of banning the use of a camera system that can help catch dangerous traffic violators who put school children at risk. It's part of a larger effort to get rid of what's known as red light cameras.

Blowing past a stopped school bus can have deadly consequences. Larry Duncan with Dallas County Schools is trying to prevent these criminal acts.

"It angers me, I get furious over that these drivers who are in such a hurry to get to wherever they are going, that they are going to risk the lives of our kids, no destination is that important," said Duncan.

To bring more awareness to this problem, Duncan says several school districts in Texas are taking part in a one day national survey of stop-arm violations. Last year, 29 states including Texas counted nearly 76,000 incidents. To combat the problem, some school districts have installed enforcement cameras on buses.

Austin ISD decided to install cameras after a recent pilot program documented - on average- 60 violations a day. A vendor to operate the cameras has not yet been selected. Georgetown and San Marcos already use the camera system on their buses.

Legislation moving through the state capitol may end up pulling the plug on the school bus cameras – even though the main focus, and opposition, is on a different application of the technology. Red light cameras were authorized by the state legislature in 2003. Since then - several cities have hired companies to operate the cameras. The practice has always had critics and that now includes a growing number of state lawmakers.

" Its time for the state to step in and say enough is enough," said State Senator Bob Hall.

The Republican from Canton, and House member Gary Elkins ( R ) Houston, have filed legislation that will prohibit the use of all photographic traffic signal enforcement. The two argue the tickets that are issued- which are civil and not criminal citations- violate due process protections.

"There is no evidence that the school bus cameras or the red light cameras reduce accidents or improve safety," said Senator Hall.

School leaders like Larry Duncan - say the system they use should not be compared to those located at intersections.

"The difference is , it's about kids safety, pure and simple," said Duncan.

An effort is underway to amend the photo enforcement ban so cameras can still be used on school buses. That debate will have to take place in the House because the Senator Hall's Bill has already cleared the upper Chamber. The House Transportation Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Thursday on the legislation.

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