The King County Sheriff’s Office will issue $419 citations to vehicle owners caught passing Seattle school buses that are dropping off or picking up students.
Starting Monday, if you decide to ignore the flashing red paddle telling you to stop for a Seattle school bus that’s picking up or dropping off students, you’ll likely be caught.
The school district has installed cameras on 120 of its 379 buses to record what has long been illegal but difficult to enforce. Drivers who illegally pass buses now can be caught on camera and, starting next week, will get $419 citations.
During a pilot program last year, Seattle school district officials said they recorded nearly 600 vehicles passing a stopped school bus over 112 school days. While it’s against the law to pass a stopped bus, bus drivers don’t have time to record license-plate numbers and other information on their own.
On Mercer Island, for example, school district Transportation Director David Bynum called enforcement without cameras a losing battle. The district added five bus cameras last year.
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“We frequently had drivers coming in saying ‘People are blowing through my stop paddle and putting the kids at risk,’ and the numbers just continued to rise,” Bynum said.
In Seattle and other districts, high-resolution cameras are installed on the exterior of school buses, which can detect vehicles that pass when the bus’s stop paddle is extended. The cameras then record an image and video of the passing vehicle’s license plate as well as the extended paddle. That data is sent to American Traffic Solutions, a private company that processes the notice and then sends it to the sheriff’s office, which does a final review. American Traffic Solutions installed the cameras and receives $69 for each violation forwarded to the sheriff’s office.
The Metropolitan King County Council passed an ordinance last year that any school district in the county can contract with the sheriff’s office to process stop-paddle violations.
Several other districts in the region have added cameras, too, but the practice is not required by the state. The Bethel School District in Pierce County, one of the first in the state to add cameras, issued an average of 30 citations a month after it installed cameras in 2014. Highline, the first school district with bus cameras in King County, has had an average of about 20 citations per month, said Transportation Director Devin Denney.
Each district receives a portion of the revenue from the violations. The state requires those funds go toward projects that make school zones safer, such as adding more crossing guards. Bethel’s revenue last year was $82,872, from its 10 bus cameras, said spokesman Doug Boyles.
Mercer Island had 58 citations last year, and the number dropped dramatically after the first six months, said Bynum, the district’s transportation director.
“We feel like the community is understanding that they need to be more careful,” he said. “It still happens, but much less than it was. And that’s our goal.”