BELEN — A local school district has started a pilot program one administrator hopes will put a dent in what he calls a nationwide epidemic.
Two buses in the Belen Consolidated Schools fleet have recently been outfitted with extra cameras.
The goal is to record drivers who go around buses when they are stopped, with stop arms out and lights flashing, and prosecute them.
“It is the law to stop,” said David Carter, director of support services for BCS. “But it’s only a $25 fine.”
This year, House Bill 24 was introduced, proposing the fine be increased to $300. The bill made it as far as the Senate Education Committee during the session that just ended.
“I believe most of the states around us are at $300 but even that’s not enough,” Carter said. “If a driver runs a stop sign (and kills a student), it ruins the student’s life, their family’s life, the driver’s. There’s no future for any of them.”
The director said he gets reports from bus drivers two or three times a week about motorists going around busses while they are stopped to load or unload students.
When a bus driver stops to pick up or drop off students, there are safety procedures in place, Carter said.
“The sign is out and the driver checks traffic and waves the students across,” he said. “But kids are kids and they get excited.”
The stop arm cameras have been installed on two buses as part of the pilot project. The new cameras will be part of the overall camera system on the buses, which includes three interior cameras.
The exterior cameras will face forward, since typically it’s drivers waiting behind the bus that pass illegally, Carter said.
“It will get a good image of the license plate and if it happens to be someone in oncoming traffic, hopefully we’ll get a good image of the driver,” he said.
The two cameras the district installed run continuously and, depending on how the pilot project goes, Carter said the district might switch to ones that record only when the stop arm is deployed.
“We’ve thankfully never had a student hit, but we’ve had some near misses,” he said. “The worst areas are on N.M. 304 and N.M. 116 and Mesa Road. We hope these cameras will help catch the people responsible and prosecute them.”
Belen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez said this type of technology is very good for law enforcement.
“Having the opportunity to review video surveillance of the alleged violation, especially something like passing a school bus that is not done in front of a law enforcement officer, will be beneficial,” Rodriguez said.
The video could provide a clear image of a license plate, as well as a date, time and location of the alleged violation, he said.
“This is absolutely something we would be able to enforce, to summon someone to court or talk to someone and issue a citation,” the chief said. “We currently use video technology in various investigations, such as store security video.”
Rodriguez said video of a vehicle illegally passing a school bus would allow law enforcement officers to track down a registered owner and, after an investigation, use it to aid in taking enforcement action.
“We take this very seriously. It’s a no brainer; this is our children’s safety, which critical,” Rodriguez said. “Anyone who ignores the stop signs on a school bus is playing a dangerous game.
“We are happy the district invested in this technology and is taking a proactive approach.”
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.