Side mounted cameras monitor the traffic and movement on the flanks of the school bus.
Side-mounted cameras monitor the traffic and movement on the flanks of a school bus. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

As of Monday, drivers who pass stopped San Antonio Independent School District buses will receive a warning. But beginning Oct. 1, they’ll get a $300 fine.

All 200 SAISD buses have been outfitted with cameras that automatically take photos of drivers who pass a school bus when its stop arm is displayed and its lights are flashing. District officials hope the system will increase driver awareness of school buses and children’s safety.

In 2016, the San Antonio City Council created an ordinance penalizing drivers who pass stopped school buses. State law already requires drivers coming from either side of the road to stop when they see a school bus with flashing lights and a displayed stop sign.

Nathan Graf, senior executive director of Transportation and Vehicle Maintenance at SAISD, said each bus is equipped with multiple cameras.

“The sides, front and back — we have no blind spots on the outside of the bus,” Graf said. “And on the inside, we have a complete view of anyone getting on the bus, the driver, and all the seating area the kids can sit in as well.”

School bus enhancements won’t just include cameras, according to district spokeswoman Leslie Price.

“We’re pleased that we’re not only going to be getting more safety equipment, but the technology will include the interior and exterior cameras, real-time data, silent alarms, and a student tracker system,” she said.

As part of its contract with the district, camera vendor American Traffic Solutions also agreed to equip all SAISD buses with Wi-Fi. By December, 30 percent of buses will have Wi-Fi capability, and all 200 should be connected by the end of the school year.

The real-time access to cameras and silent alarm capability will roll out at the same as the Wi-Fi. The student tracker system, which assigns ID cards to students from pre-K through elementary, will first be implemented on 20 Head Start routes, and then rolled out to the rest of the buses. The ID cards will keep track of which students get on the bus, and where they get off.

From now until Sept. 30, the district will be working to make people aware of the law governing stopped school buses. Because SAISD started school on Aug. 13, school bus cameras have already recorded footage of drivers breaking the law, Price said.

The district does not have to pay for the safety system, but will share a portion of revenue generated from citations with the company. This year, SAISD will receive 15 percent of revenue while the rest goes to American Traffic Solutions. The district’s percentage will increase each year and by the fifth year, SAISD’s share will be 35 percent.

Before the City passed its ordinance, four school districts had set up bus-camera pilot programs to collect data on car safety problems around stopped school buses. North East ISD alone found 598 violations through seven camera-equipped school buses during the 2012-2013 school year.

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Five school districts have bus-camera programs in place. Judson, North East, South San, Southside, and Southwest ISDs issued more than $5 million in civil penalties through 18,823 citations during the 2016-2017 school year. Violators paid back less than half, about $2 million.

More than a dozen other Texas cities have passed civil penalty ordinances for disregarding stopped buses since 2012, including Dallas, Austin, and San Marcos.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.