Every kindergartener with a sense of self-preservation knows not to trust the stop signs that jut out from the sides of school buses, because even though they are the same reflective red octagons as those planted in concrete and the word "STOP" is written in the same white font, people often don't.
"We did a test two years ago," says Larry Duncan, board president for Dallas County Schools, which operates the bus system for the county's school districts. "We installed stop arm cameras on six of our buses and for 30 days we recorded. On every trip for every bus, we recorded at least one violator. Sometimes as many as 10."
If the scofflaws are caught by a police officer, they face a fine of up to $1,000, and violations are a felony on the second offense. Few people, however, are dumb enough to ignore any stop sign in plain view of a cop, so the only recourse for a elementary school student is to flip the bird and keep walking. Maybe track the car down and key it, if that's your thing.
Duncan said Dallas County Schools (which has no teachers or students but is, nonetheless, organized as a school district) is trying something more pragmatic.
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The district has already begun outfitting its entire 1,650-bus fleet with cameras that automatically snap a picture of your license plate if you're the type of person who prefers mowing down children to pausing for five seconds on your way to work. A couple of weeks later, after a police officer reviews the video and determines that, yes, you did ignore the stop sign, a $300 ticket will show up in your mailbox. Or your friend's, if you put in enough forethought to borrow his car.
If the program sounds almost identical to the cameras that snap your picture when you run a red light, that's because it is, though Duncan avoids the comparison because the controversial red-light cameras carry "baggage."
The district is shelling out $7.5 million for the cameras, with additional costs for police officers to review the violations and other expenses. All of that and more will be covered by a predicted $10.8 million in revenue during the program's first year, though the Dallas City Council (and eventually the city councils of other municipalities in which DCS operates) will need to pass an ordinance imposing the $300 fine before any money can be collected.
DCS predicts that the $10.8 million figure will drop by 20 percent in each of the following two years as drivers realize they don't want to pay a $300 fine and that anyone who runs over a kid is probably going to hell.