MARIETTA — Hundreds of Cobb County school buses will be back on the streets beginning tomorrow, and drivers who pass a school bus that has stopped to pick up or drop off children could receive a $300 citation in the mail.
On Tuesday, county commissioners are expected to approve a five-year agreement with the Cobb School District and a private company, American Traffic Solutions, to allow ATS to process camera footage and mail citations to violators. The company would keep 75 percent of the revenue the first year, and lesser percentages thereafter.
Unless a raised median separates the lanes of traffic, all vehicles traveling in either direction must stop for a school bus that has its red stop arm extended during student pick up or drop off.
In 2011, Georgia lawmakers amended Senate Bill 57 to allow stop-arm cameras to be installed on school buses, and Cobb Schools installed cameras on 102 of its 1,120 buses, focusing on those that travel in areas where bus drivers had reported the most problems.
There’s currently no authority to punish violators caught on camera, which will change if county commissioners sign off on the agreement with Cobb Schools and ATS. The Tempe, Ariz.-based company is also the largest provider of red-light cameras in the United States.
“It has been a very long process and I am thankful for everyone that has taken the time … to make this happen for the safety of our children,” said Sheri Lewis, one of two Cobb parents who created Operation Stop Arm and pushed for the 2011 legislation. “The buses are transporting Georgia’s children, and we all need to do our part to protect them.”
Cobb Schools spent $20,400 last year to install the 102 bus cameras at $200 each, using money from SPLOST III. The district reported 871 violations caught on the cameras to the police department last year, but without enforcement authority, county police could only send warning letters.
County Chairman Tim Lee expects that to change.
“We’ve been working for several months with the school system to move forward with the system procedures, code enforcement and processes to be able to prosecute,” Lee said. “I haven’t had any (commissioner) indicate that they have issues with (the contract), so it should pass.”
The Cobb school board agreed to the contract on July 19.
Charles Territo, a spokesman for ATS, said that after AngelTrax cameras on a bus captures an “event,” the pictures and video will be wirelessly uploaded to ATS’ processing center through the school district.
An ATS employee will review the images, and if he or she believes a violation has occurred, ATS will forward the image or video to Cobb Police for confirmation.
The company then mails the citation, and the fine — $300 for a first violation and escalating to $1,000 for a third violation within five years — can be paid online or by mail to ATS. Territo said any challenges to a citation would be handled in Cobb State Court.
No points are assessed to a driver’s license for the violations, and they are not reported to a driver’s insurance company.
“There is a pretty significant problem in Georgia, and one I think law enforcement has had trouble enforcing,” Territo said. “This allows the bus driver to focus on the kids and provides police departments with video evidence.”
Previously, school-bus drivers would have to write down a violator’s tag number and make a report later. Or a police officer had to witness the passing, and write a ticket.
ATS already has contracts with school districts in Florida, Texas and Maryland, Territo said, and this year is adding five Georgia school districts: Cobb; Carroll, Newton and Muscogee county school districts; and Carrollton City Schools.
Cobb Schools will not pay for processing violations.
Cobb County government will keep 25 percent of the revenue collected in the first year, 40 percent the second year, and 50 percent in the latter years, under the five-year contract.
The Marietta City Schools district, which has about 7,000 students, has ATS cameras on two of its 98 buses, and district spokesman Thomas Algarin said the district is adding two more.
“We will be adding two additional stop-arm cameras this week as part of a pilot program with a second company,” Algarin said.
Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal - School bus cameras can catch drivers who illegally pass fines might follow