COMMENTARY: Bus cameras could save kids' lives

It’s only a matter of chance that children aren’t struck by passing cars each day as they step on or off school buses.

The law in Washington is pretty simple: When a school bus is stopped with the “stop” paddle extended and red lights flashing, drivers are supposed to stop.

But in a recent survey, 94 percent of Washington school bus drivers say it doesn’t always happen. In fact, it’s a situation we encounter on a regular basis – impatient drivers who speed around either side of the bus, putting the lives of your children in jeopardy.

When this happens, I rarely have time to accurately write down the precise make, model and license plate number of the car. I’m too busy protecting my students. What’s especially frustrating is that, even when we are able to file a complaint, more likely than not, the offending driver is never cited.

That’s why Senate Bill 5540, which would allow school districts to place cameras on the outside of the school bus, is so important.

The cameras would be programmed to only take photos of the back of cars and the license plate and only when the driver is illegally passing a bus. At no time will the driver’s face ever be photographed, so there’s no need to worry about an invasion of privacy.

Of course the paddle camera won’t physically prevent drivers from speeding past stopped buses, but it will give law enforcement and the courts better tools to track down violators and impose hefty fines. Next time, those drivers will think twice.

One of the beauties of the program is that it pays for itself. What money is collected through fines goes back into the operation and maintenance of the cameras. It’s not intended to be a profit-making endeavor, it’s only meant to deter drivers from passing buses when children are getting on and off.

Many school districts already have installed cameras on the inside of school buses to deter bullying and prevent other unsafe behavior. These cameras are helping to keep kids safe.

The bill isn’t something dreamed up by schools as a way to raise more money in an economy that has continually hurt the educational system. It’s an idea put forward by school bus drivers who see the realities of a law that too many people ignore.

And some say there isn’t the need for any drastic measures because no child has yet been killed. That’s simply pure luck and not a promise for the future.

Every time I let students off my bus, I worry. All it takes is for one driver to ignore the bus paddle and one student to be caught in the middle of the street with a 2,000-pound car headed her way. I’ve seen enough close calls to know the dangers that exist. It’s really only a matter of time before tragedy strikes, unless lawmakers act first.

These are our children. The value of their lives should be enough incentive to embrace this common-sense legislation.

Encourage your elected officials to pass Senate Bill 5540, which would allow school districts to place cameras on school bus paddles. Call them today at 1-800-562-6000.

Rick Nichols, who authored the above commentary piece, is employed as a school bus driver by the Enumclaw School District.

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