FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Drivers who pass stopped school buses should expect more consequences this year as Forsyth County steps up efforts to fine violators.
Forsyth County Schools say that last year there was an estimated 34,000 instances of a driver passing a school bus with its stop arm extended.
In an attempt to reduce that number, the Board of Education entered into an agreement with the county, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office and American Traffic Solutions to implement a school bus safety arm camera system onto 30 buses initially.
Forsyth County Schools Chief Operations Officer Todd Shirley said the camera will take a photo of the driver, car and license plate and mail the photo to the offender with a bill. The first offense will be a $300 ticket, second is $750 and third is $1,000.
“It’s pretty hard to dispute,” Shirley said. “That’s why they have such a high rate of people paying the ticket. The only time they refute it is if they weren’t driving. Our ultimate goal is to stop people from passing our buses when the stop arms are out. We know right now that’s a problem.”
Money collected from the fines will be used to fund the program and will be deposited into the county treasury for the Solicitor’s Office.
“We know there will be people who contest their tickets, although the percentages up until this point are very low,” Shirley said. “We think there will be those who do that so we have to have someone at the Solicitor’s Office to schedule that.”
Schools Transportation Director Michel Satterfield said discussions about the program began in July. His department is required annually to collect data on how often the buses are being passed by vehicle traffic when their stop arms are out and students are unloading and loading the bus.
The highest count of the year saw 189 vehicles pass the buses in a day while their stop arms are out.
“(The 30 initial cameras will be) placed strategically on buses that can be moved throughout the district based on the need and what they perceive the safety needs as being,” Satterfield said. “That installation will be absolutely complete by the time these government agreements are signed and there are steps taken prior to implementation in January.”
Board members were wary whether the program would pay for itself.
Superintendent Jeff Bearden said ATS reports, based on data they receive, they can arm 30 buses and make a profit, otherwise they wouldn’t be entering into the agreement.
“It is alarming when you hear a statistic like what we were given,” Bearden said. “It’s a problem. We
think this will help cut that problem down.”