Drivers in Pierce County’s third-largest school district are starting to pay the price for illegally passing buses, according to recently released data.
The Bethel School District issued an average of 30 citations a month after officials mounted cameras on stop-sign paddles last winter, according to an assessment by Superintendent Tom Seigel at the end of the school year.
Those violations, at $394 apiece, translate to more than $48,000 in additional revenue for the Spanaway-based school district.
Bethel is one of the first school districts in the state — and the first in the South Sound — to use a state law passed several years ago that permits traffic cameras on school buses.
A trial period with the stop-sign cameras launched in 2014, but ticketing didn’t start until January this year.
Five of the district’s 200 buses were equipped with the cameras. They resulted in a total of 149 citations. Another 82 potential violations from last month are awaiting review by Bethel’s school resource officers.
About 95 percent of the captured video violations have been deemed valid by the school resource officers, according to Seigel.
Arizona-based contractor American Traffic Solutions (ATS) provides the service.
Drivers face a fine of $394 if they’re caught illegally passing a bus, a process that involves the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and the county court system.
Total fines from the violations so far amount to $58,706, of which Bethel will receive $48,425 to be used for student safety purposes, as required by state law.
Seigel provided the information in an email he distributed last month to the Pierce County sheriff, fellow South Sound school district superintendents and other public officials.
Drivers illegally passing buses has been an ongoing problem in the Bethel School District, which covers more than 200 square miles of rural and suburban areas. Bus drivers have said they observe about a dozen or so violators per week on average.
In April, three elementary school kids were preparing to step on to a school bus in Graham when they were nearly struck by a speeding SUV that drove around the bus on the shoulder. One child felt the vehicle brush her shoe.
That bus didn’t have a camera on the stop-sign paddle, but a camera inside the bus recorded harrowing footage as the SUV passed on the right side.
The district’s goal has been to capture as much footage as possible in order to crack down on violators and reduce incidents.
An additional five buses will be equipped with the cameras by Sept. 9, the first day of the new school year.
Five more are set to be added by November, and an additional five are planned for installation by March 2016.
“This is another step in the process to keep our students safe as we transport 10,000 (students) every day,” Seigel wrote in his email.