Two years ago, a 12-year-old girl was hit by a truck and seriously injured on Bensalem Boulevard while she was walking to her school bus in Bensalem. The driver did not stop, despite the signage on the bus.
In response to this and other reports of people driving by buses when they are stopped, Bensalem police tried various different tactics to stop people from illegally passing. That included following some buses around, putting an officer on a bus, or patrolling near various bus stops. But none of them provided the results they were looking for.
This school year, police believe things will change.
On Thursday, Bensalem School District and township police officials announced new bus camera technology, the first of its kind in the region, to help crack down on those driving by stopped buses illegally.
"Come September, all Bensalem Township school buses are equipped with 360-degree cameras, they're going to capture all those violators," Bensalem Public Safety Director William McVey said.
The school district buses are now equipped with various cameras that can capture license plate images of those who pass them when they are stopped to pick up children. The technology, created by a company called BusPatrol, is completely funded by fines from violators. BusPatrol contracted with the district. Officials declined to say how much the program cost.
McVey estimated there have been between 30 and 50 citations per year for people driving by stopped buses over the past few years, however he believes there are many more people doing it, just not getting caught. With these new cameras, he expects there will be more citations issued going forward.
Prior to this school year, if someone passes a school bus illegally, typically the bus driver could get their license plate number and pass it along to the authorities, however, the driver's main focus is getting the children on the bus safely.
"This system is obviously much more effective, where every license plate that passes the bus will be captured," McVey said.
Under the new program, cameras are outfitted to the stop arms, and will detect vehicles that illegally pass on both sides of it. Cameras are on both sides of the bus.
"So if we have an unfortunate incident where a driver were to go around the opposite side, we would have that on camera as well, and that would be turned over the Bensalem Police Department," said Brian Russell, supervisor of operations and transportation for the district.
There are also cameras on the inside of the bus to monitor safety there as well.
Those found passing a school bus with a stop arm out and red lights flashing will be issued a $300 civil penalty. The vehicle owner will be sent a link of the video recording of the incident, according to police.
Videos of the incident will be reviewed by Bensalem police, and if investigators determine the violation to be egregious, the driver will instead receive a citation with a $250 fine, five points on their driving record and an automatic 60-day suspension of driving privileges when they are convicted.
"If they see something that's above just rolling that stop sign, where the was life in danger, or a child was in danger, we're going to take the action," McVey said. "I think that's important we can still do that."
Bensalem Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo estimated 250,000 people come through the township each day. Based on volume alone, McVey said Bensalem is likely the township in the county with the highest amount of people illegally passing buses.
"This is a right step in the right direction," the mayor said
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McVey said Superintendent Samuel Lee approached him with the idea earlier this year. The new system will start at the beginning of the school year, beginning Aug. 29.
The public safety director said state law changed in 2020 to allow this stop arm camera system.
"It just took a while to get here," he said. "So you're going to see more of this happening in other communities."
Students hit by cars going to buses in Bensalem
In the last 10 years, there have been at least three instances of students in Bensalem getting hit by vehicles while going to their buses. Of those three, two of them resulted in fatal injuries.
Most recently, a 12-year-old girl was struck by a Ford F-150 truck in the on Bensalem Boulevard near the intersection with Timber Lane about 7:30 a.m. Jan. 6, 2020.
The girl suffered several serious injuries, including a lacerated kidney, lacerated spleen, fractured pelvis, fractured femur and a small brain bleed, according to police. Her left foot had to be amputated because of a small blood clot. The driver of the truck was sentenced to one year of house arrest last year.
A 16-year-old Bensalem High School girl was fatally struck by a vehicle while walking to her bus, also on Bensalem Boulevard, in December 2014. The driver was sentenced to 11 1/2 months to 23 months in county prison for causing the crash.
A 17-year-old Bucks County Technical High School senior was struck by a car while walking to his bus on Bensalem Boulevard on Nov. 29, 2012. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died the next day. An investigation showed the driver hit the boy, who was crossing Bensalem Boulevard against the traffic light. The driver, who had a suspended license, stopped after hitting him. The driver was given traffic citations in the case.
This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Bensalem buses to be equipped with cameras to catch passing drivers