School officials in Will County, Ill., are working with traffic safety officials and a local engineering firm to develop a video camera that would identify motorists who illegally drive around stopped school buses. The experimental video system, which will be tested on the county’s buses this fall, is unlike anything available on the market right now, according to local officials.

“This is an opportunity to do something that nobody else is doing,” said Will County Regional School Superintendent Richard Duran. “If we can make it work here, we are setting up a model for the nation.”

The device is intended to discourage drivers from passing a school bus that has its stop arm extended. According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 10 children are killed each year when drivers fail to stop for school buses.

“We’re hoping it will create a general deterrent effect” and increase the safety of schoolchildren, said Tanya Shipley, traffic safety program coordinator for the Will County Governmental League, which initiated the project in 1996. “If people still continue to violate the law, we’re hoping to be able to use the pictures for prosecution.”

With help from a traffic safety grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Will County traffic safety program began searching for a camera system that could identify passing motorists about three and a half years ago, Shipley said. In 1997, the county tested a still-camera system but found it was ineffective due to vibrations of the bus, weather conditions, and other factors, she said.

Recently, a local engineering firm volunteered to build a digital video camera system after reading about the county’s failed attempt with the other system. The company, KG Rear Vision of Arlington Heights, Ill., manufactures automobile collision-avoidance products.

Ron Silc, the firm’s product manager, said its goal is to deliver a camera that automatically captures and stores digital images in which the vehicle, license plate, and the driver can be clearly identified, all for less than $800 per bus.

An optical bridge would enable the camera to “see” both the front and back of the bus simultaneously, and an ultrasonic sensor would detect the motion of a car that is passing while the stop arm is extended, automatically triggering the camera to record the car’s image. The images would be stored and available for downloading and printing from a computer.

“In effect, we’re trying to develop a ‘smart camera’ system that will only take images when the stop arm is out and will only keep them if the car passes the bus,” Duran said.

The camera system would be mounted on the outside of the bus, perhaps on the stop arm itself so the only way it can “see” anything is when the arm is extended, he added.

The Will County Regional Office of Education will use $25,000 from a federal law enforcement block grant to purchase the cameras and conduct a follow-up campaign to evaluate how successful they are in convicting motorists and preventing stop-arm violations from occurring.

“We hope to have some prototype cameras going this fall,” Duran said. “Before we can get into mass distribution of this, we want to have an image that will be clear enough to stand up in court to prosecute people.”

Figures compiled by the state showed that about 10,000 violations occurred each school day, Shipley said. The figures were based on surveys of bus drivers, including those in Will County, she added.

The district hopes to test six camera systems this fall on buses throughout the county, and if the tests go well, the county will purchase an additional 25 to 30 cameras later in the year, Duran said.

The cameras were supposed to be tested on buses last fall, but Duran said the technology needed to be improved first. “You couldn’t read the license plates,” he said.

Links:

Will County Regional Office of Education, 302 North Chicago Street, Joliet, IL 60432; phone (815) 740-8360, fax (815) 740-4788, web http://www.will.k12.il.us.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 400 7th St. SW, Washington, DC 20590; phone (888) 327-4236, web http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov.