BICKENLL — North Knox School Corp. is the first public school corporation in the county to add cameras to their buses in an effort to catch stop-arm violators.
They knew motorists were ignoring the stop arm; it has been a growing problem for years. But nothing prepared them for what they discovered during the first few days of school.
They caught six violators, officials said, in just three days.
“I was absolutely shocked,” said transportation director Allyson Bowers. “In talking to people, I'd hear, 'Why are you spending money on cameras?' But we knew it was happening. It's not a new thing.
“We're just able to catch them now,” she said. “And it's going to give us a true number on what's been happing for years.”
Bowers, too, said the stop arm violators have few commonalities. They've caught motorists driving around buses as well as failing to stop when traveling in the opposite direction. It's been both mornings and afternoons as well, she said.
“It's happening on our highways, our towns, at our bus stops, everywhere,” Bowers said. “We've had some in daylight, some in the dark, in the mornings.”
North Knox students headed back to the classroom on Tuesday.
They're one of many rural school corporations dealing with a new state law that changes the way students are allowed to board buses. Bus drivers are now prohibited from loading or unloading students at a location that requires students to cross a U.S. or state highway, so North Knox has had to redesign a handful of routes.
An early amendment to the bill slashed what would have been funding for school corporations to add cameras to school buses in an effort to catch more violators, but North Knox superintendent Darrel Bobe opted to move forward with the purchases anyway.
The school board months ago approved an expenditure of $5,000 to put cameras on the corporation's five buses; the corporation has another 13 contracted routes, and some of those have them, too.
The cameras are placed so as to catch the license plate numbers of stop arm violators in the hope that more can be prosecuted.
And it's working, Bowers said.
The cameras are recording whenever the buses are running. A bus driver must simply make note of the time if they witness a stop arm violation.
Bowers then goes to the bus camera footage during that window of time and looks at the image. In all six cases this week, she said, they got a clear picture of a license plate.
“Even in the dark, it still gets all the letters very clearly,” she said. “We can read the license plate, the expiration date, the county sticker, all of that.
If somebody has a bumper sticker on their car, we can see that as well, and it's been an identifying factor already.”
Bowers then sends the images on to the Knox County Sheriff's Department, which, in turn runs the plate, finds the violator and sends them a $135 ticket in the mail.
All six tickets, according to Bobe, have already been sent out.
“No talking about it. No phone calls,” Bobe said. “You just get a ticket in the mail.
“People need to know we're not messing around.”
Sheriff Doug Vantlin said the violator can either pay the ticket or choose to fight it in court.
Either way, this week has done more for the prevention of stop arm violators than years of police work.
“We've gotten complaints — a lot of complaints especially over the last couple of years,” he said. “Six in three days sounds like a lot, but compared with the number of complaints we often get, it's not.
“I'm certainly not falling-over-shocked by it.”
Vantlin said in year's past, deputies would follow school buses — or even sporadically ride on school buses — in an effort to catch stop arm violators. Sometimes it worked. Most of the time it didn't.
They'd sometimes go an entire school year without issuing a single stop arm violation.
“So these cameras make it better for everyone,” he said.