The new school year in Austin kicks off next week. Wednesday, school officials held a safety briefing and also announced a new way for parents to keep tabs on the bus their kids are on.
Flashing yellow caution lights have long been used to identify where school zones are located. Now, parents in the Austin Independent School District, will be able to locate the bus their children are on by using a smart phone. That information is accessed through an app called, “Where's the bus.”
Transportation director Kris Hafezizadeh said the new app taps in to signals sent out by GPS devices that are installed on AISD buses. The system originally was designed for dispatchers to monitor routes and to send help if a bus breaks down. The idea of providing the service to parents came up last year.
"I go to many community meetings at the schools, and this was one of the request, hey can you make this happen for us so my children don't have to wait 30 minutes when it’s raining,” said Hafezizadeh.
Only parents and guardians can sign up for the service and it only tracks the specific bus that their children are on. The yellow school bus icon is updated every 15 seconds -- and shows exactly how far away the bus is at the time.
AISD also wants you to remember another piece of technology they have on their buses, it involves the stop arms. All 312 school buses that will roll out this fall now have cameras. It was a program that was launched earlier this year.
When the cameras went on line them immediately started catching drivers illegally passing stopped school buses. Between February and June 6,600 citations were issued. AISD Police Chief Eric Mendez is happy with how the cameras are functioning but surprised by the number of offenders that have been caught. The citation for getting caught on camera, illegally passing a school bus, cost $300.
" And we had hoped that we would start to gain compliance by drivers across the city and we'd start to see a steady decrease, I’m hoping that we start the school year with a decrease in violations for passing a school bus than what we ended the school year,” said Chief Mendez.
Along with the on board cameras, district police will also monitor school zones where a zero-tolerance enforcement policy will be in play for speeders and cell phone use. Using a cell phone in a school zone comes with a $200 fine.