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‘It’s like having a police officer on the school bus at all times’

Ottawa motorists who blow past stopped school buses could now find themselves caught on camera — and facing some serious penalties.

The city is joining a number of jurisdictions by installing cameras on six school buses in an attempt to stamp out the dangerous driving behaviour, officials announced at City Hall Thursday.

“The result is going to be awesome. It’s like having a police officer on the school bus at all times,” said Sgt. Mark Gatien. “You can’t beat technology. We need to embrace it and use it to the best of our ability, and this is what we’re doing today.”

A box mounted midway along the driver side of the buses holds three cameras and sensors, allowing the system to detect a passing vehicle from any direction.

A fourth camera installed near the rear of the bus faces forward. All of the cameras have infrared lights to ensure a licence plate can be read regardless of weather conditions.

Once the system records a suspected infraction, the images are automatically transferred through a secure cell network to an Ottawa police officer who then reviews the footage and can issue a ticket to the offending driver.

Problem routes

It costs $20,000 to fit the camera system on each bus, so the program is costing the city $120,000, according to Rob Wilkinson of Safer Roads Ottawa, who coordinated the program’s implementation.

Gatien said two of the six camera-equipped buses will join the Francophone school transportation authority next week, while the other four will join the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority fleet in September.

Hopefully the problem will
become less of a problem.

– Ottawa police Sgt. Mark Gatien

“Those buses will rotate around the problem routes, and hopefully the problem routes will become less of a problem,” Gatien said.

Ultimately, deployment will be left up to the bus operators based on feedback from drivers, Wilkinson said.

“It’s really up to them as the people in the boots on ground to identify for themselves where they want to see the technology go.”

Vehicle owner fined, not driver

The system was tested extensively during a pilot project in 2015 and 2016, according to Wilkinson.

“We heard loud and clear from members of the community and bus operators that this was an incredible challenge happening on our roads,” he said.

In September and October 2016, Wilkinson said one specially equipped bus led to police issuing 70 tickets for illegal passes.

Gatien said the fine in Ontario for blowing past a school bus with its stop sign extended and signals flashing is $490, but is issued only against the registered owner of the vehicle, since police must clearly identify who was driving at the time.

‘We’re hoping that the media we’re getting and word of mouth will keep the number of charges down, but in reality I think we’ll get a lot of charges off the get-go,” Gatien said.