By Lingling Xu
Grand Ledge Gazette staff writer
Grand Ledge—On Jan. 24, a Grand Ledge High Schools’ school bus was struck by a Jeep whose driver lost control. One Grand Ledge High School student who was in the bus, the jeep driver and the passenger in the jeep were injured.
The student was hospitalized for a month. The accident was recorded by cameras mounted on the school bus.
For student safety, Grand Ledge Public Schools recently became one of two school districts in Michigan to install cameras outside of the school buses to record images of drivers who pass them when their flashing red lights are activated. The cameras are installed under the stop-sign arm that swings out on the left side of a school bus when it stops. The district has already installed cameras on the outside of six school buses. Each school bus has three stop arm cameras.
Accidents elsewhere recorded by bus cameras
These cameras record every driver passing the school bus and their vehicle plates. The video can be sent to the Grand Ledge police department and the Eaton County District Court to issue the driver a ticket, said Dennis James, an officer of Grand Ledge Police Department.
The cameras in these six school buses have identified 143 violations for failure to stop for buses with their stop-sign arms and flashing red lights activated in this school year. Violators face up to a $370 fine, three penalty points on their driving record and no more than 100 hours community service, said John Legus, the supervisor of Grand Ledge Public Schools Transportation Department said.
“Nobody wants to pay the fine, ” Legus said. The expensive fine makes people pay more attention to the stopped school buses.”
A survey by the Michigan Association for Pupil Transportation estimates that 10,000 vehicles pass stopped school buses with red lights flashing each day in Michigan. Said Gary Bubar, the director of the Michigan Association for Pupil Transportation said.
Nationwide, six children were killed by vehicles passing school buses that were loading and unloading children in the 2011to 2012 school year, according to the School Bus Fleet Organization. Another three were killed by struck by the bus side. None of them were from Michigan,
“ Passing the school bus is the most common violation, ” said Legus.
According to Michigan law the driver of vehicle overtaking or meeting a school bus which has stopped and is displaying flashing red lights shall bring the vehicle to a full stop with no less than 20 feet from the school bus. It cannot proceed until the school bus visual signals are no longer activated.
Grand Ledge Public Schools have about 5,000 students. Forty-five school buses transport about 4,200 students each day. The last accident before the January one was three years ago, said Legus.
“We have very good record on school bus safety,” said Kim Birsen, a router for the Grand Ledge Public School Transportation Department.
Cameras aren’t only on the outside of the buses. Every bus has at least four cameras inside to maximize student safety and security, said Legus. They watch students’ behavior from different angles. Any student violating bus rider policies accumulate points under the school bus point system. They may be get suspended from the bus.
Legus also said schools are going to put cameras on the outside of all 45 school buses next school year. Each one costs about $2,000 and they will be installed by district mechanic. These cameras will cost about $300,000 thousand for the total. Grand Ledge Public Schools put 7 percent of its total budget to transportation department that is about $3.4 million for items like school bus inspections, salaries, gas, and insurance.
“ Our budget is kind of tight, but we have to install the camera for student’s safety,” said Birsen. “ It helps us catch hundreds of violation.”
For ensure students’ safety, Grand Ledge Public Schools do the school bus inspection everyday before transport students. The mechanic checks every part of a school bus and the Michigan State Police Department also inspects them every year too.
Even though accidents happen every year, school buses are still very safe, Legus said.
“ The school bus is 50 percent safer than the passenger vehicle,” said Legus.