INDIANAPOLIS | Hoosier motorists driving past a school bus with its stop arm deployed, as it picks up or drops off children, may soon get a $300 ticket in the mail.
The House Roads and Transportation Committee is set to vote Thursday on House Bill 1042, authorizing public and private schools that operate bus fleets to contract with camera-enforcement companies to install cameras on school bus stop arms and photograph drivers failing to stop.
"I don't mean to overreact," said state Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, sponsor of the measure. "But I don't want to wait until there's a tragedy because someone runs a stop arm on a school bus."
On average, 33 children a year are killed in the United States in school bus-related crashes, with nearly all fatalities due to bus drivers accidentally running over a child, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
A child being injured or killed due to a motorist ignoring a school bus stop arm is extremely rare, federal statistics show.
Yet the practice of driving around stopped school buses is extremely common, according to Sherry Dean, of AAA Indianapolis. She told the House panel last week that a one-day bus driver tally of stop-arm violations equated to more than 300,000 a year.
"The intent here is to change behavior," Dean said.
Under the proposal, a photograph or video of an alleged stop-arm violation would be reviewed by a local police officer, who'd issue a citation to the vehicle owner demanding payment of a civil fine of $300 for the first violation, $750 for the second within five years and $1,000 for a third violation.
The fines would not go to the state's general fund like other traffic ticket revenue. Instead, the money would be split among the school, local police and the camera company.
Disputed camera enforcement tickets could be challenged in court. Police also would retain the ability to issue tickets on the spot if they witness stop-arm violations.
Last year, 404 drivers were convicted of stop-arm violations in Indiana and paid fines of up to $10,000 each.
Several members of the committee, including state Reps. Mike Speedy, R-Indianapolis, and Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, said they fear authorizing school bus camera enforcement will lead down a slippery slope to red-light and speed-camera enforcement, which they oppose.