BOSTON — Lawmakers want to help catch motorists who illegally pass stopped school buses by installing cameras to record the violations.
On Tuesday, several proposals were heard by the Legislature's Committee on Transportation that would allow cameras to be mounted on the extended stop-sign arms of school buses to record license plates of traffic in both directions. Video images would be given to local police to assess whether a moving violation took place.
Rep. Linda Campbell, D-Methuen, a sponsor of one of the proposals, said the legislation would allow cities and towns that want to use cameras to submit recorded video data as evidence of a violation. Currently a police officer or bus driver must witness a violation for a motorist to be cited.
"We know there's a problem, and there's a very compelling case for doing this," she said. "Little kids getting off buses aren't paying attention to traffic, and we need to protect them."
Nationwide at least 98 pedestrians under the age 18 were killed in school transportation crashes between 2007 and 2016, according to federal data.
Locally, a 2011 pilot project that put cameras on buses in Medford, Quincy and Seekonk found rampant violations.
In Medford alone, cameras captured at least 112 motor vehicle violations in 105 days, according to the school district.
"It's unacceptable that we haven't done anything about this yet," said Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, who has also filed a proposal. "The safety of our children must be paramount."
Massachusetts is one of at least a dozen states that allow traffic cameras, but they are only used to catch cars that evade tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike.
Proponents say school bus cameras would be a more cost-effective deterrent than using police traffic details to catch violators.
Cameras are activated when a car illegally passes a stopped bus, with its stop sign extended, taking photos of the license plate. Fines for illegally passing a school bus range from $250 for first-time violators and up to $1,000 for repeat offenders.
For years, the state Registry of Motor Vehicles would send written reprimands to motorists for violating the rules if a bus driver managed to get their plate number. But that policy was discontinued several years ago, according to the state agency.
Similar proposals have been filed in the past several legislative sessions but have failed to gain traction amid concerns about privacy and costs to school districts.
Campbell said lawmakers have updated the proposal to address concerns that have been raised in the past, such as allowing the driver of the car caught on camera to contest the charges, narrowing the depth of field for the cameras, establishing rules for destroying video that isn't used for investigations and making it optional for cities and towns.
David Poirier, president of the Virginia-based bus camera company BusPatrol America, told the committee the cameras are a proven deterrent in states where they are allowed.
"If people know they're going to get caught for passing a school bus when kids are getting on and off, they stop," he said.
At least 16 states — including Connecticut, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania — have school bus stop-arm camera laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a nationwide advisory urging motorists to exercise caution following a string of deadly crashes at bus stops.
"This is a serious problem," said David Strong, president of the School Transportation Association of Massachusetts, a trade group. "It always has been, but every year it gets worse."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.