Palliser boosts bus safety technology

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David Shaw, Palliser Regional Schools Transportation Services Supervisor, with one of the new buses outfitted with a video camera system.

They say the camera adds pounds to a person’s likeness. In this case, however, those caught in the view finder have more to lose than gain.

Motorists caught passing a stopped bus with red lights flashing face a potential fine of $544. The  chance of receiving a traffic ticket in the mail are even better now after Palliser Regional Schools added another six buses equipped with video camera systems into the fleet.

David Shaw, Palliser’s Transportation Services Supervisor, doesn’t relish the prospect. 

“I don’t like to see someone get a ticket in the mail. That’s not what the camera system was solely meant to do,” he says. “But it is to make the driver’s life easier if someone does break the law.”

The goal of Palliser’s bus safety campaign, ‘Think of Us on the Bus,’ was to put a face on the passengers placed in jeopardy when motorists illegally pass school buses which are stopped with red lights flashing, coined “fly-bys.”

For some, perhaps the message hits closer to home when their pocketbook is affected.

“Maybe (that offending driver) shows his neighbour the ticket he gets in the mail and goes, ‘oh darn.’ You hope the word is getting around,” says Shaw.

The bus-mounted video camera system has proven effective as far as the evidence it provides.  This past year Palliser shared 43 video clips of fly-bys with law enforcement officials, with a few others that didn’t have as clear an image of the vehicle.

“Anything that there was a license plate, got a ticket,” says Shaw, adding only one ticket was contested and not successfully. “They were shown the video evidence by the prosecutor before they went in front of the judge and they changed their plea.”

With 43 convictions on 43 tickets, the government coffers were richer by some $23,000 in fines.

Palliser has made a practice of introducing additional video camera systems when it purchases new school buses. Not only do older buses require upgraded wiring to accommodate the system, Shaw says it doesn’t make sense to install new technology on older vehicles which might only have a few years of shelf life remaining.

When the video cameras were first installed on Palliser buses, the priority were routes with higher traffic volume and higher incidence rates including Coaldale, Sunnyside School and those in Picture Butte.

Three of the new buses with cameras will serve the Vulcan area and the other three are in the rural Lethbridge area.  The additions mean 45 out of 58 bus routes are covered by cameras now.

The cameras not only collect video from outside the school bus, but also the interior. Shaw says the ability to track student behaviour on the bus has become a “secondary win.”

This past school year saw 66 reported fly-bys, compared with 74 the previous school year. While he knows numbers will likely spike in September, after Christmas and when the weather gets better in the spring, Shaw feels confident Palliser is making a difference.

He notes ongoing news coverage of the school division’s efforts, radio campaign and other partnerships with local law enforcement agencies. Shaw also points out a bus safety program has been approved for the Career and Life Management (CALM) course and that should increase awareness among new drivers.

“We are starting to get a handle on it,” he says.

Class began for some 8,300 students across Palliser Regional Schools on Sept. 4. There was one reported fly-by during that first week back.