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Prince George's officials hope to unveil school bus cameras

Monday - 12/17/2012, 7:15am  ET

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Prince George's County hopes to unveil a pilot program at the beginning of the next school year to equip buses like these with cameras to catch drivers illegally passing them. (WTOP/Ari Ashe)

Ari Ashe, wtop.com

PALMER PARK, Md. - In August, Montgomery and Frederick counties unveiled school bus cameras, designed to catch dangerous drivers illegally passing while children are present.

Prince George's County officials hope to unveil a similar program in August 2013.

"We are trying to work with the school board to approve a plan to put cameras on 20 buses," says Prince George's County Major Robert V. Liberati, who runs the traffic camera program.

A study from the Maryland Department of Education found 4,657 drivers illegally passed a school bus in one day in April.

In 2011, a similar survey from the Maryland Department of Education found more than 7,000 violations in one day. Prince George's County came in fourth, with 745 overall violations, but first in Maryland on door-side violations.

It was a combination of those statistics and the efforts in Montgomery and Frederick that convinced Prince George's County to act.

"We have one of the largest school bus systems in the region," says Liberati. "Is it a huge problem? No. But it only takes one incident for it to be a tragedy."

Liberati says both Montgomery and Prince George's counties have nearly 1,300 school buses on the road each day, serving about 120,000 to 150,000 students in each county.

Montgomery and Prince George's are also the two largest school districts in Maryland, following closely behind Fairfax County as the largest in the D.C. area.

However, unlike Montgomery and Frederick, who are equipping as many school buses as possible, the Prince George's County school bus camera program will likely remain small.

"Will there be enough violations to pay for the equipment?" says Liberati. "I don't think there will. We may have to fund them from other sources. Maybe speed cameras or red-light cameras."

As WTOP previously reported, Prince George's County will replace its 25 existing red-light cameras and add 47 new cameras across the area starting next spring. Those 72 red-light cameras will complement 72 speed cameras already in operation.

"That's the whole idea of speed cameras and red-light cameras," says Liberati. "The money goes towards public safety."

In Frederick County, getting caught on a school bus camera can result in a $125 fine. In Montgomery County, the ticket can go as high as $250.

Prince George's County will still have to pass a law to determine its fine for getting caught on a school bus camera.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)