Grants awarded to install school bus stop arm cameras
The Office of Traffic Safety is awarding more than $3.5 million in grants to 32 schools and school bus companies.
DOUGLAS COUNTY — In the past five years, law enforcement officers cited more than 4,600 drivers for school bus stop arm violations, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety.
To help change these dangerous driving behaviors, the Office of Traffic Safety is awarding more than $3.5 million in grants to 32 schools and school bus companies to install stop arm camera systems to catch those breaking the law.
Among those companies is Palmer Bus Service, Inc., which serves the West Central Area School District and Minnewaska School District, among others.
The total grant received by Palmer is $902,491.70.
"We were very fortunate to be awarded a grant," said Shane Johnson, Palmer's chief operating officer.
Johnson said all of the company's route buses — about 600 — will be able to have the stop arm camera technology installed.
"(Those are) the buses that go out each day, morning and afternoon, to pick up students and take them to school and home," he said.
The initial grant awards are Phase 1 of a larger stop arm camera grant project. Minnesota state legislators approved funding for this year and 2023, totaling $14.7 million, the Office of Traffic Safety reported. The funding will be used for purchasing and installing stop arm camera systems and supporting software programs.
The Phase 2 grant application process is now open and runs through March 15.
In 2021 alone, Minnesota law enforcement cited 769 drivers for stop arm violations, the Office of Traffic Safety Reported.
Johnson said the technology will make it easier for the drivers who break the law but aren't cited to be held accountable.
"More times than not, the bus driver is just unable to get a good enough description for the local law enforcement or Minnesota State Patrol to find out who did that," Johnson said. "So obviously now, with this technology it'll be caught right on camera, and we'll be able to send this camera footage in to the locals or the Minnesota State Patrol, and they'll take it from there.
"The camera doesn't lie," he said.
Johnson said he hopes the technology can be installed by the beginning of the next school year, but that this could be affected by supply chain issues.
"We don't want to promise or guarantee anything," he said. "We're kind of at the mercy of the system that we're in right now."
According to Palmer's website, it transports approximately 530 West Central students and approximately 700 Minnewaska students each school day.
State law requires all vehicles to stop for school buses when the bus driver activates the flashing lights and has the stop arm fully extended.
Drivers who violate the law face a $500 fine, the Office of Traffic Safety reported. Additionally, drivers can face criminal charges for passing a school bus on the right, passing when a child is outside the bus, or injuring or killing a child.
The Office of Traffic Safety also reported that drivers must stop at least 20 feet from a school bus that is displaying red flashing lights or a stop arm when approaching from the rear and from the opposite direction on undivided roads.