Five Steps to Implementing a Successful School Bus Stop-Arm Camera Program
Greg Buckner on Feb 14, 2019
When it comes to using video recording systems on school buses to keep students safe, much of the focus is on what’s happening on the bus when it’s moving.
But some of the most dangerous moments come when students are getting on and off the bus.
In a November 2018 report from School Transportation News, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASPDTS) reported that during its annual one-day count of incidents of illegal school bus passing throughout the U.S. in 2018, school bus drivers in 38 states recorded 83,944 incidents during that one-day count. Stretch that figure over a 180-day school year and the NASPDTS estimates that as many as 15 million vehicles could be illegally passing school buses in a given year.
The issue of keeping students safe while boarding and exiting the school bus continues to draw attention across the country, as NBC News reported that three children in Indiana were recently killed and another was injured when a truck struck them as they crossed the road to board their bus – even after the bus driver had activated the bus stop arm.
Tragedies like the one in Indiana have led many districts to implement stop-arm camera systems in their school buses to catch stop-arm violators and increase the safety of their students.
So what are the factors you should consider when you’re trying to implement a stop-arm camera system?
With that question in mind, here are some key things you need to consider when looking for the best stop-arm camera system to keep your students safe:
Know Your Laws
Before you begin to look at stop-arm camera systems, it’s important to know what laws and legislation your state has concerning the use of stop-arm cameras to catch and prosecute violators – and it’s also important that you work with your local law enforcement to establish a successful program.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 16 states currently have laws regarding the use of school bus stop-arm cameras, and there are different stipulations you must be aware of depending on your location.
For example, the state of Connecticut allows schools to use stop-arm camera systems, but stipulates the system cannot record images of vehicle occupants and a sign warning drivers that a stop-arm camera system is being used must be placed on the bus to alert drivers.
But in Mississippi, the law simply authorizes every school district to mount stop-arm cameras on buses without any stipulations on what can and cannot be recorded.
After you’ve done all your research, you need to reach out to your local authorities to inform them of your plans to implement stop-arm camera systems. They need to know that you are implementing such a program, and both sides need to establish the process for how evidence of violators will be submitted.
A recent news story helps to illustrate what happens when there is a disconnect between the school implementing the program and the local law enforcement that would prosecute the violators.
According to a report from ABC57 News in South Bend (Ind.), the South Bend Community School Corporation has been using camera systems since 2017 to capture evidence of stop-arm violators. But local law enforcement claims the district has not sent any video evidence of violators since they started using the cameras, which means the local prosecutor hasn’t received any video evidence either.
It’s crucial for both parties to be on the same page to ensure a stop-arm camera program is successful. Otherwise, there’s no point in implementing such a program if it isn’t going to accomplish what it’s meant to accomplish.
After all the work you’ve done to implement the best program to catch stop-arm violators, another key component of establishing a successful stop-arm camera program is to raise awareness about it.
Maybe it’s the school sending a press release to the local media announcing the program. Maybe it’s spending a little money on an advertisement in the local newspaper or on the local radio station. Maybe it’s a joint media blitz by your school and your local law enforcement to get the word out.
Whatever your preferred method, it’s vital to increase awareness about your stop-arm camera program to ensure it’s as successful as possible.
Capturing stop-arm violators is a key focus of implementing such a program, but your ultimate goal is to make sure that drivers are educated enough that they don’t engage in such dangerous driving behavior in the first place.
If you’re going to use stop-arm cameras to catch violators, it’s vital to find a system featuring cameras that provide the absolute best picture quality. Placing the camera in the right position is obviously important, but location means nothing if it can’t provide a clear picture of the violator because of poor image quality.
Make sure that any stop-arm camera system you’re researching has high-definition video and image quality that will allow you to clearly capture important vehicle details like license plate numbers or physical features of the driver – especially at high speeds.
Having high-quality video will allow you to capture even more detail, and having the ability to use software to zoom in on the captured video will provide even more info, so be sure to ask if the system will come with the software needed to do this to ensure you’re getting the most detail out of your video.
School bus drivers have enough to focus on when they’re transporting students.
The last thing they need to worry about is a stop-arm camera system that requires a PhD to operate and doesn’t work when you need it most.
Does the system automatically start recording when the stop arm is activated or does it have to be manually activated? Does the system automatically tag the video as event video when the stop arm is activated? Can the system easily integrate with a current video system or does it have to run as its own separate system?
These are important questions to ask when you’re looking for the right system to fit your needs.
Besides being simple to operate, the stop-arm camera system you choose should also feature equipment that is built to operate in tough conditions. Be sure to ask about the material the cameras and other components are made of, and if they are rated to operate in the elements.
Also ask what method of storage the video recorded by the system will be recorded to. Some systems record to DVRs with hard drives that feature moving parts, which can result in data loss if the DVR isn’t designed to withstand the high level of vibration that can come with driving on rough roads.
Look for systems that utilize solid-state design, as those don’t feature the moving parts that can cause failures and more importantly, cause you to lose the important video you need to catch stop-arm violators.
Video Evidence Management
The entire point of implementing a stop-arm camera system is to capture evidence of stop-arm violators, so knowing how you’re going to manage and maintain that video so it can be used to prosecute violators is crucial to implementing a successful stop-arm camera program.
While some schools have the resources on site to save and manage the influx of data that comes from implementing video recording, many do not.
If your school is not equipped to manage the video with its own resources, you will want to look for vendors that not only offer stop-arm camera systems, but also offer their own form of video management services.
The most important figure to know going in is how much storage you’ll need and the method in which you’ll store it.
Some companies offer video management software that can utilize your existing servers, while others offer cloud-based solutions that let you choose plans based on the amount of space needed to store your data.
Also be aware that if you’re going to be storing video that may be used in a criminal case, your state and local laws for how long that video must be maintained need to be considered when determining how much storage you will need.
It’s also crucial to find a vendor that offers a video management solution that allows you to record metadata – such as date/time stamps, GPS location, and other key details – to your video to provide important information that could be the deciding factor in prosecuting a stop-arm violator.
Once you have figured out how you’ll store and maintain that data, you need to think about how you’ll maintain the integrity of the video evidence you collect. Take the time to develop a comprehensive video policy that clearly details how the chain-of-custody for you video is maintained and exactly who will have access to view and share videos to ensure the evidence you collect cannot be tampered with. Part of that can be solved by choosing a vendor that offers a video management solution that gives you complete control over how evidence is shared and maintained, such as providing the ability to manage the viewing permissions for users and the ability to generate automatic audit and usage reports that cannot be altered.
Interested in implementing stop-arm camera systems on your school buses? Visit this link for more information on how you can integrate stop-arm cameras with on-board cameras as part of the PRO-VISION® HD Solid-State School Bus Camera System.
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