EP school buses now armed with safety cameras | #schoolsaftey

Eden Prairie Schools’ buses have a new security feature — they are equipped with cameras to help keep students and drivers safe.

The cameras are located just below driver windows on the sides of all 104 of the district’s buses. The cameras will record the car, face and license plate of any driver who disregards a stop arm meant to protect students as they cross the street.

“We want the community to know that student safety is our No. 1 priority,” said Randy Haar, EP Schools’ director of transportation. “Even before the cameras, we had wonderful safety protocols in place. This is just another tool to help keep students safe.”

The cameras are fairly small and located just below the bus driver’s window. Photo by Juliana Allen

The cameras were funded by a $53,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety (OTS). OTS provided $14.7 million in grants in 2022 and 2023 to reimburse schools and transportation companies for purchasing and installing stop-arm camera systems and supporting software programs. 

Haar said that the cameras have already recorded violations since they were installed in May. This helps the bus drivers, whose main focus is the safety of students, especially when they are getting on and off the bus.

“If a driver sees a violation, they will try to write down the license number, but that’s not always possible,” Haar said. “The cameras help enhance that ability to record violations.”

Haar said the district works closely with the Eden Prairie Police Department to record and pursue violators. “During the 2022-23 school year we submitted 38 reports of safety arm violations. Of those, 27 citations were written, and 11 warnings were given.” Fortunately, he said, “There were no injuries at all to students.”

See examples of how the cameras will work here.

This is a photo of the red and black sign for Eden Prairie Schools' department of transportation.
EP Schools’ transportation department is located across from Central Middle School. Photo by Juliana Allen

Program is a partnership with law enforcement

The program is a partnership with law enforcement agencies, including the Minnesota State Patrol, police departments and sheriff’s offices statewide.

Grant applicants, including EP Schools, provided support letters from local law enforcement agencies, an outreach plan and demonstrated need by sharing violation numbers from the last two years.   

In addition to enforcement, the project funds education and awareness efforts to encourage drivers to obey the law and stop for buses with flashing lights and stop arms extended.

“Drivers need to pay attention and not let impatience get the best of them near a school bus picking up or dropping off kids,” said Mike Hanson, director of OTS, in a news release earlier this year. “Driving distracted or thinking you can quickly drive around a bus could kill or seriously injure a child. What a horrific, easily preventable consequence. Drive smart and help keep our youngest Minnesotans safe.” 

Know and obey the laws — or face fines, even criminal charges

Minnesota state law requires all vehicles to stop for school buses when the bus driver activates the flashing lights and has the stop arm fully extended. Drivers who violate the law face a $500 fine.

When the school bus driver activates the flashing lights and has the stop arm fully extended, drivers who pass a bus, pass when a child is outside the bus, or injure or kill a child can face criminal charges.

“We want drivers to be aware of school buses and take extra caution when they see one,” Haar said. “Be aware of students and situations. When you see the amber lights flashing, slow down and be prepared for the bus to stop. Do not pass the bus when it is stopped with the stop arm out.”

All 104 of EP Schools' buses are now fitted with cameras. This is a photo of one of the buses with the stop arm deployed. Photo taken at Eden Prairie Schools' department of transportation on September 15, 2023. Photo by Juliana Allen
When you see this sign deployed and flashing, stop at least 20 feet away. Photo by Juliana Allen

OTS shared a 30-second stop-arm public safety announcement, a more detailed school bus stop-arm safety video, and the following guidelines:

  • Motorists must stop at least 20 feet from a school bus that is displaying red flashing lights or a stop arm when approaching from the rear and from the opposite direction on undivided roads. 
  • Motorists should slow down, pay attention and anticipate school children and buses, especially in neighborhoods and school zones. 
  • The best way to be aware of your surroundings is to put the distractions away.

OTS shared the following guidelines that families can share with their students:   

  • When getting off a bus, look to be sure no cars are passing on the shoulder.
  • Wait for the bus driver to signal that it’s safe to cross.
  • When crossing the street to get on the bus or to go home, make eye contact with motorists before proceeding.

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