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(Posted 7 p.m., May 1)
School bus camera nabs first offender in less than a week

By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

A pilot project aimed at nabbing area school bus runners in the act caught its first offender on camera early this week, less than seven days after the device was installed.

According to ML Bradley owner Kathleen Both, the driver in question was videotaped using a camera mounted on the side of one of their buses.

"The camera has barely been on the bus three days and we've already recorded someone driving through the flashing lights," said Both, who has been a vocal advocate for increased enforcement of the law governing the requirement to stop on both sides of the road when approaching a school bus with its lights flashing and stop sign extended.

Despite the fact that breaking the law can cost up to $2,000 and six demerit points, an increasing number of drivers have been ignoring the flashing lights and extended stop sign in and around Orléans. On some routes, specifically in Fallingbrook and Chapel Hill, parents have taken it upon themselves to physically step out into the middle of the road and stop the traffic while their kids get on and off the bus.

The biggest hurdle in trying to enforce the law is that the driver has to be positively ID'd in order for them to be charged. By the time most offenders drive past the bus the driver can't see their faces. The police used occasional blitzes to try and address the problem, but the result is only temporary and usually only as long as the police are on the scene.

The only way to effectively enforce the law, according to Both and others, is through the use of video cameras attached to the buses. While they may not be able to ID the driver they can record the infraction as well as the license plate number much the same way as red light cameras do.

The pilot project is an extension of the "I Stop, You Stop" campaign that was launched by the City of Ottawa in partnership with Safer Roads Ottawa, which includes the Ottawa paramedics, police and firefighters, and the school boards.

The camera is constantly running and the bus driver merely has to touch a button to time-stamp when an offense occurs. Because of the angle of the camera it can't be used to identify the driver, but it can record the make, model and license plate of the vehicle.

Cumberland Ward Coun. Stephen Blais has been at the forefront in pushing for a crackdown on school bus running. He believes it won't take long for the pilot project to prove that there is a real need for the devices.

"The first step is to try and educate drivers about the need to pay attention when they are approaching a school bus and the tragic consequences that can result if they decide to ignore the flashing lights and stop sign," says Blais. "But if they break the law they're going to get caught and they're going to get fined."

Both and Blais are both confident the one camera being used in the pilot project will clearly demonstrate the need for others. The question then will be, who will pay for them. Blais believes that the business community, and especially larger corporations, could be approached to help sponsor the cameras as a service to the community.

Another possibility is that the cameras could pay for themselves, especially at the rate drivers have been ignoring the current law.

(This story was made possible thanks to their generous support of our local business partners.)

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