GARRETT —Garrett has a new tool to help ensure the safety of more than 1,000 students in the school district who ride the bus to school every day.
Three new 78-passenger school buses arrived last spring equipped with 247 Security Inc. stop arm cameras installed on the driver’s side of the bus, according to transportation director Julie Malcolm. The new technology has been implemented to slow down drivers and to catch those who ignore school bus stop arms.
The three new cameras that cost the district about $3,300 consistently record traffic while the bus is running. If a violation occurs, drivers notify Malcolm. A recording is then downloaded for Quality Control Manager Billy Pogue to pull frame-by-frame footage, and he would make a CD or hard copy and then turn over to the police department for action, if applicable. The cameras are able to catch license plate numbers, regardless of speed and weather conditions.
Under state code, a driver’s license can be suspended up to 90 days for the first offense, up to one year if more than one violation in a year and a fine of up to $10,000 can be assessed for a Class A infraction.
Last year, five stop arm violations were captured using a portable Zen-tenial camera. That camera was randomly moved from bus-to-bus in areas where drivers were speeding or ignoring the stop arm from either direction. One area often at issue was North Randolph Street from High to Covell streets, the other along St. Rd. 8 near Connie Jean Crossing.
Bus drivers are first concerned with student safety and often unable to jot down license plates. Bus riders sometimes write down partial plates or models, but complete information is needed to take action on an incident, Malcolm said.
Garrett’s 13 buses travel east as far as Jerry Junction Apartments on Rohm drive south of the Auburn Walmart, west to new S.R. 3 and south to the Allen-DeKalb County line, logging 161 miles per day, totaling 952 stops, not including extra-curricular trips, Malcolm said. Three other buses travel to DeKalb Central, Eastside and Kendallville for IMPACT and special needs students.
On April 23, the State of Indiana held its annual stop arm survey where districts report how many violations occurred on that day only, Malcolm said. The results showed 2,530 stop arm violations, 2,460 vehicles passed on bus on the left side and 70 passes on the right side.
A new state law requires schools to minimize the number of stops it makes, and students are no longer allowed to cross state highways to board a school bus following the deaths of three Fulton County students last year. G-K-B is in compliance with this law, having removed those types of stops for several years. No students will be crossing a state roadway, Malcolm said of routes along state highways 327, 205, old and new Highway 3 and St. Road 8.
Malcolm said bus drivers pass along these routes, picking up and dropping off students on the right hand side of the road, and then pick up the other side on a return trip. Bus stops have been established on both sides of North Randolph Street with 55-60 students on either side, she added.
Drivers are trained to not let students out of the bus if traffic is not stopped. They are also to communicate a hand signal with students to tell them when it is safe to cross a road or street.
“We are not just going to rely on their stop arm cameras, we are going to be following these buses and have increased patrol,” said Sgt. Kevin Kyle of the Garrett Police Department. “If we are getting reports of stop arm violations on a bus that is not equipped with a camera, or the driver could not get the plates, we are going to be doing increased patrols to get these people stopped.”
Kyle said the department would like to see drivers be aware of the many children will also be walking and riding bikes to school starting this week and stressed parents should show safety measures to their children. “Not everybody rides the bus. Talk to them about safety, not running across the streets.” Almost 600 bikers and walkers will be along the streets and sidewalks, weaving in and out of cars. They need to look both ways before crossing the road, even on back roads, he said.
“We are increasing patrols before-and-after school,” Kyle said. “Stay off phones and look out for kids who are walking and biking home. We are going to be to be stopping people for speeding and other dangerous violations. Citizens need to know to slow down and be aware. Look for these kids who are walking and waiting at bus stops.”
Drivers need to pay particular attention with the first few days of school, Malcolm said. “Whenever you see a school bus, proceed with caution.
“We are excited for the new school year to start and to get the kiddos to-and-from school as safely as possible,” she added.
Malcolm noted the need for more bus drivers in the district.
“We would love to have more drivers,” she said. Anyone interested can her contact the central office at 357-3185 or email@example.com.