Drivers who illegally pass some Montgomery County public school buses may face a camera installed to automatically catch violators in the act.
Plans for those cameras, however, have been delayed, prompting a letter from County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin voicing frustration.
In an Aug. 13 letter to County Executive Isiah Leggett and County Attorney Marc Hansen, Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Takoma Park requested an update on the project noting that the County Council enacted a law about 17 months ago 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.
“The goal of this law is to keep our children safe while traveling on school buses by changing the behavior of motorists,” Ervin said in the letter. “With students headed back to school on August 26, this issue is extremely urgent.”
County spokesman Patrick L. Lacefield said the county is currently working on three steps to move the project forward.
In one step, the county Department of General Services is developing a request for proposal for potential vendors, Lacefield said.
For about the past year, he said, the county explored a few vendor options that fell through. One potential vendor had been the same company that operates the red-light cameras for the county.
A draft memorandum of understanding between the county school system and Montgomery County Police is currently in the hands of the school system, which will return the memorandum with its comments, Lacefield said.
The hope is the memorandum will be completed “as soon as possible,” he said.
The county will also publish a regulation sometime in October in the county’s official register regarding finding the people the cameras catch, he said.
The county’s register provides information on regulations issued by the county executive, boards and commissions, according to the county government website.
“It’s taken longer than we wanted it to take, but all three of those things are in process,” Lacefield said.
Angela Cruz, a county police spokesperson, said police are currently not talking about the program because it is still being approved and developed.
Todd Watkins, director of transportation for the school system, said that the cameras will be installed on about 25 buses that run routes with the highest number of passing incidents.
“We’re gonna start small and make sure we do it well,” Watkins said.
These 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, Watkins said.
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.
The Maryland State Department of Education released in August the results of a study that found in a single day more than 1,000 Montgomery County drivers passed a stopped school bus operating its flashing red lights.
Watkins said that number, however, marks a roughly 10 percent decrease from the last year’s number of incidents, part of a downward trend he attributes to word of the cameras spreading.
“I think the progress is already being made, and I think further progress will be made when the cameras get there,” he said.
In her letter, Ervin also said she would request a joint meeting of the County Council’s education and public safety committees to include discussion on the bus cameras.