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School bus camera program merits second look

July 10, 2018 GMT

Bexar County motorists have a bad habit of disregarding state law requiring vehicles to halt when the stop arm of a school bus is deployed.

During the 2016-17 school year, 18,823 citations were issued by five area school districts that contracted with a private company in a fledgling bus-camera program.

A San Antonio city ordinance allowed the issuing of civil citations based on the camera images that carried up to a $300 fine. That compares to a fine of $500 to $1,250 for citations issued by certified peace officers who are eyewitnesses to the same type of offense.


The civil fine program, however, did not go as planned. Nearly $5.3 million in fines were assessed. Motorists paid just over $2 million of that, but none of it ended up in the school districts’ hands.

The fines that were collected went to a now-defunct company that fronted the cost of the bus cameras and their installation. Principals in the company that installed the cameras became embroiled in a far-reaching federal criminal investigation in Dallas. The probe included allegations of wire fraud, bribery and kickback schemes, and involved Dallas County Schools, a taxing entity that managed bus service for multiple school districts in North Texas.

Local school districts that participated in the bus-camera program were fortunate not to have lost any of their own money in this project. They are now working with a committee established to handle the contracting company’s debt to determine if they can recoup some of the lost revenue.

It is regrettable that this program fell victim to legal difficulties. South San Antonio ISD Superintendent Abe Saavedra, whose district issued 1,394 citations during the 2016-17 school year, said the program helped enhance student safety.

Motorists became aware of the bus cameras and were stopping more often, he said. They still do.

It is encouraging to see that another private company is working to resurrect the abandoned bus camera program. It merits investigation by local school districts. Local law enforcement alone is not enough to curb the rampant and troubling behavior in school zones and near school buses.

In 2017, 45 citations were issued by the San Antonio Police Department to motorists alleged to have passed a stopped school bus. They were among the 12,682 citations the department issued for other school-related traffic infractions, including failure to obey a school crossing guard, speeding in a school zone and using a wireless communication device.


San Antonio is one of about a dozen Texas cities, including Dallas, Austin and San Marcos, that allow civil penalties in connection with school-bus cameras. Across the country, 17 states allow photo or video evidence of the illegal passing of a school bus.

A single-day survey conducted in 2017 by 106,976 bus drivers in 30 states and Washington, D.C., found 78,239 motorists illegally passing school buses, according to the National Director of Pupil Transportation Services. Texas bus drivers recorded 7,304 of them.

Some San Antonio city officials would like to see a repeal of the ordinance that allows civil fines to be imposed from photographs from these cameras. Concerns about establishing a fair appeals process and dealing with unpaid fines are understandable, but they are not grounds for doing away with the program. There should be some fine-tuning.

The primary function of cameras on school buses is not to generate revenue. They are tools that can and should be used to enhance student safety. Done correctly, they can do that.