Several years ago, school buses came equipped with large lights that flashed when they reached a stop. Those lights were to indicate that opposing traffic should stop so children could exit safely.
But that signal apparently fell short of reaching some motorists, so legislators took action. Now several years later, the modern Pennsylvania school bus extends a flashing arm carrying a fairly clear message: "STOP."
But that still apparently fails to inspire the corresponding action in some motorists. So local legislators are among those supporting a measure to increase enforcement.
Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, has proposed a bill to add video cameras to the extending arms on school buses to capture photos of the license plates of those who disobey the law.
About 1,000 motorists per year violate the School Bus Stopping Law, which carries a 60-day driver's license suspension, five points on the offender's
driving record, and a $250 fine, according to the state's Department of Transportation.
What it does: House Bill 1580 would permit school districts, if they think there's a need, to equip buses with cameras to sense a passing vehicle and snap a picture of the rear of the vehicle and its license plate, Grove said.
Bus drivers are currently the primary means of enforcement, he said, with many of them training their student riders to keep an eye trained for violators, he said.
"The kids know to write down the plate number for the bus driver" because the drivers are busy minding the road and the children, he said.
But even in cases where the plate numbers are captured, more than half of the drivers are not charged or are found guilty of lesser offenses, Grove said, citing statistics from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
District judges would have more compelling evidence against a defendant who proclaims innocence if there were a photo, he said.
Big brother? Grove said the cameras shouldn't be a concern to anyone who isn't breaking the law. The cameras only shoot photos when a sensor shows a passing car as the arm is extended.
In order to comply with the state's wiretapping laws, signs warning about the cameras would have to be posted at boundaries of each municipality in which buses are equipped with the cameras, he said.
The images collected couldn't be used for the prosecution of any other crime and would only be relevant to another case if, for example, "in leaving the robbery, the person ran the bus's stop sign," Grove said.
The bill has the support of other York County legislators.
Majority Whip Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, said the cameras are optional, not a mandate, and it won't affect school districts that don't want to install them.
"I agree with the big brother argument on some things, but in this case there's no way a bus driver can catch a license plate number," he said. "The bottom line is they're putting a young child in danger and breaking the law, and I don't know how you're supposed to catch these people. If somebody has a better idea than Seth has, let us have it."
Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Springettsbury Township, said he doesn't think violations are rampant in York, "but it's another tool in the toolbox for law enforcement."
Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-York and Lancaster counties, said the bill will probably have his support if it makes it to the Senate.
"I don't really see how that becomes any kind of issue with privacy," he said. "You have someone breaking the law and putting the lives of children at risk."
Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-York and Dauphin counties, said he would be concerned about imposing another unfunded mandate on the school districts, "but if it is up to the school district as to whether they feel it's appropriate and if they think it would make kids safer, I think I would be open to it."
He would want to hear from the law enforcement community before committing his vote, he said.
Second proposal: Another bus-related proposal with support from the York delegation is sitting in the House Judiciary Committee after passing the Senate earlier this year.
Sen. Richard Alloway II, R-York/Adams/Franklin counties, introduced Senate Bill 57, which would exclude school districts from the state's wiretapping laws so they can record audio from video cameras already installed on the insides of school buses.
Supporters have said the audio accompanying the video would give school officials more evidence to deter bad behavior. For example, administrators could determine who started a fight by reviewing what was said on a bus.
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.