After legal kerfuffle, Fairfax County gives OK to add stop-arm cameras on some school buses

Fairfax County school buses are getting cameras to catch drivers who illegally pass them (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

A long-delayed effort to outfit Fairfax County Public Schools’ buses with cameras has officially received the green light from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

At a meeting yesterday (Tuesday), the board unanimously approved an agreement allowing the Fairfax County Police Department to participate in a program that will install 50 bus camera systems to detect drivers who don’t stop when buses are boarding and off-loading students.

Board members emphasized the need for the program amid surging pedestrian fatalities and concerns about student and traffic safety.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said he was extremely dismayed about delays associated with the program.

“This is a long time coming, frankly. It will save lives and equally importantly make the very tough job of our school bus operators a little bit easier with maybe one less thing they have to worry about,” he said.

The project is not expected to go live until 2024.

Failure to stop when a school bus unloads and loads students is prohibited by state law, resulting in a civil fine of $250 for violations. The state passed enabling legislation allowing schools to install video-monitoring systems in 2011.

FCPS staff began exploring the idea of adding cameras to its buses in 2013, prompted by Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust, but the Board of Supervisors turned up the heat in February when it approved a motion asking FCPS why a program had not yet been implemented.

Factors in the delay included a need for more state legislation to clarify legal questions regarding the authority of police departments to mail summons to violators and permitting vendors to access Department of Motor Vehicles data.

Talks with a vendor were on hold during the pandemic and when the contact for the vendor left in 2021, the future of the project was unclear. McKay then sent a letter in December 2021 proposing that the program be in place by last summer.

McKay, Foust and others said they had hoped for a more expeditious handling of the proposal.

“It was the legal issues that cost us all the times which is really frustrating because there were different interpretations [of the law],” McKay said.

Virginia school systems with bus stop-arm cameras include Falls Church City, Arlington and Newport News.

FCPS will bear the cost of the program by vendor American Traffic Solutions, Inc.

Drivers of vehicles identified by the bus camera system will receive a summons that requires payment.

The program will expand based on an evaluation of the administrative process and the effectiveness of the traffic calming technology by FCPS and the FCPD.

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