Stop-Arm Cameras Quell Illicit School Bus Passing

A line of cars stops for a Falls Church City Public Schools bus with its stop arm extended.
A line of cars on Great Falls Street stops for a Falls Church City Public Schools bus with its stop arm extended.

In the three months since the City of Falls Church began recording stop-arm camera footage and ticketing motorists seen illegally passing stopped school buses, more than 60 citations have been issued. The number is lower than Falls Church City Public Schools Superintendent Toni Jones expected: When bus drivers were asked to count how many violations they saw before the cameras were installed, the number reached 60 in just a couple of days.

Jones is pleased with the numbers, owing the decrease in violations to “a strong media campaign” by the City to warn drivers that cameras would be monitoring vehicles passing stopped school buses and to explain to them when they can and cannot pass a stopped school bus. (A PSA from that campaign can be seen below).

According to state law, all motorists on either side of the roadway must stop for a bus that is letting passengers off or taking passengers on. This includes multi-lane roadways, though the state code makes an exception for drivers on the opposite side of a median or other barrier in the roadway from the bus. Jones said that most violations occur on Broad Street – where multiple lanes and, for a small stretch, a median could cause driver confusion.

Footage captured by the stop-arm cameras is reviewed by the City of Falls Church Police Department to determine if a violation has occurred. If police determine a vehicle has passed a school bus illegally, the owner of the vehicle is issued a citation. The infraction is not reported to insurance and carries no points on a driver’s license, but the fine for illegally passing a stopped school bus is $250.

“The purpose of the cameras is to stop the violations, not to create revenue,” Jones said, explaining there is no cost to the City for the program, that 75 percent of the revenue brought in by citations in the first year of the program goes to American Traffic Solutions, which installed and maintains the cameras and records the violations. ATS also services the City’s red-light cameras on Broad Street. Much of the remaining revenue, Jones said, pays having a police officer review the video and sending violations to court.

The stop-arm camera program, which was first proposed by a City schools parent who’d read about a similar program in another state, was unveiled in the fall just days before National School Bus Safety Week, making the City the first community in the state to allow this type of bus safety monitoring for the dozen buses that take more than 2,000 students to and from City schools each day.

“The City of Falls Church Police Department is excited to be on the cutting-edge of child safety – our top priority – in school bus transportation,” said City of Falls Church Police Chief Mary Gavin. “In its third month of operation, the program continues to garner interest from other local jurisdictions, and we look forward to sharing more stats and best practices as we move forward.”