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Clayton County officials renew focus on student transportation safety | PHOTOS

From left, Clayton County Public Schools Transportation Coordinator Deidra Brown, Supervisor Krysty Lopez and driver trainer Jennifer McDay show off a display of the district’s new digital cameras installed this spring on every bus in the transportation department. The women were on hand during the Clayton PROUD Back to School event Saturday. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)

From left, Clayton County Public Schools Transportation Coordinator Deidra Brown, Supervisor Krysty Lopez and driver trainer Jennifer McDay show off a display of the district’s new digital cameras installed this spring on every bus in the transportation department. The women were on hand during the Clayton PROUD Back to School event Saturday. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)

JONESBORO — Traffic has steadily increased this month with staggered school openings around metro Atlanta.

Clayton County Public Schools added to the congestion Thursday as kids headed back to class to begin the 2014-15 school year. A majority of those students, however, are taking the bus.

Hundreds of bus drivers and monitors from around the region prepared for the new year sitting in on a lecture about pupil transportation safety Tuesday at the Clayton County Performing Arts Center.

The featured speaker was Steve Monroe, the pupil transportation consultant for Georgia Department of Education. He quickly informed the audience of the importance of being cautious and aware, noting nine of 10 recent school bus-related fatalities involved experienced drivers.

He told them that even knowledgeable, experienced drivers are well-served to be reminded of their precious cargo.

The seminar was part of an annual four-day training and orientation session on issues related to student transportation and district employment.

Transportation Director Harold Walker said he believes drivers are prepared for the busy year ahead.

“I’m very happy,” he said. “We’re ready to start school.”

Walker said the district’s buses have been inspected and outfitted with new digital cameras, upgrades from an old analog camera system officials phased out last semester.

The digital cameras — mounted inside, four per bus — capture front and back views as well as the front entrances and back exits. He said the front cameras also show a street-level view from behind the driver. The new technology is expected to save time and labor in the video retrieval process.

The district contracted with Seon Systems last fall to modernize its video recording with an all-wireless system to capture live feeds at various angles.

Walker said the installations were funded by SPLOST as part of safety and security upgrades and were completed over a sixth-month period.

Stop-arm cameras installation

Walker said the district also fitted 20 school buses with stop-arm cameras in heavy-traffic areas. He said he hopes the technology will help deter motorists who illegally pass buses, or at least catch those who recklessly endanger the lives of children who may be boarding or exiting from buses.

The district is partnering with American Traffic Solutions to implement its CrossingGuard photo enforcement program in which cameras and sensors are mounted to the side of school buses.

Those sensors automatically detect vehicles that illegally pass buses when stop arms are deployed, and the cameras are able to capture images of their license plates coming and going.

The images will help officials identify violators who could face fines of $300 for a first offense, a $750 fine for the second violation and a $1,000 for a third offense within five years, under Georgia law.

Walker reported positive effects from the program that started last winter with an “extremely high number of violations, and it has been declining since.” He said violations decreased by 15 percent over the spring.

Non-transport zone modification

Officials are encouraging motorists to be especially cautious on the roadways as students kick-off a new school year with added bus stops.

“The general public should be cautious and obey the school bus flashing lights and stop arms,” said Walker.

The school board recently approved an amendment to its Policy ED on Student Transportation Management, shrinking its non-transport zone from 1.5 miles to 1 mile for eligible students in pre-K through fifth grades. That is an estimated 2,000 elementary schoolers added to the district’s three-tier bus routes.

Non-transport zones for the district’s middle and high school students will remain unchanged at 1.5 miles.

Officials said parents and guardians can visit the district’s website to find out whether an elementary school student is eligible. Call 770-473-2835, or visit www.clayton.k-12.ga.us, and access the “school and bus locator” link at edulog.clayton.k12.ga.us/edulog/webquery.