WAFF Investigates: School bus safety. Are you breaking the law? - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

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WAFF Investigates: School bus safety. Are you breaking the law?

School systems are trying a new tool to catch lawbreakers. (Source: WAFF) School systems are trying a new tool to catch lawbreakers. (Source: WAFF)
LIMESTONE COUNTY, AL (WAFF) -

If you pass a school bus while the bus's stop sign is out you could be criminally prosecuted. And school systems now have a new tool to catch potential law breakers.

Starting this year, Alabama school districts can use cameras on those stop signs to record license plate numbers.

Kay Cornelison is employed by Limestone County Schools to drive dozens of children to Ardmore High School and a nearby elementary.
They know her as Ms. Kay. And Ms. Kay's driven the same bus route for the last two-and-a-half years. Over that time she's seen a troubling trend.

"There's now rhyme or reason to it. It seems like it comes in spells. I may have three that run my stop sign one week and not have it happen for a month and then it happens again. You just never know," said Cornelison.

It's a startling testimony about what's potentially barreling down Alabama roads towards your kids. State law bars anyone from passing a school bus when this stop sign is out and the safety lights are engaged. First-time offenders face a fine up to $300. A second conviction means a fine up to $500 and a 30-day suspension of your driver's license.

A third offense and the fine jumps to $1,000, includes 200 hours of community service and a 90-day suspension of your driver's license. If you get caught the fourth time, it's a class C felony. But despite the punishments, Cornelison said it's still happening and it's happening too often.

"It makes you angry and you think you want to get that license plate number and you want to find those people, but you can't. As a bus driver your eyes have to always be on the kids, always on traffic," said Cornelison.

But Cornelison and her colleagues have a new tool to track down offenders with. It’s a tiny camera placed on the buses stop sign.

"There's no arguing with that camera. And I don't have to decide whether that person ran my stop sign," said Cornelison.

"If we identify the license plate number we turn them in every time. Not part of the time, not some of the time, not most of the time. Every time," said Limestone County Schools superintendent Dr. Tom Sisk.

Superintendent Sisk is serious about safety. He's invested heavily into his roughly 140 buses. The money is going to everything from four cameras on the inside to LED lights for more visibility on the outside. Installing a camera on the stop sign will be the latest safety investment.

We joined him on a ride-a-long on the first day of school last week. During the 90 minutes on the bus, we didn't encounter any distracted or disgruntled drivers. But Sisk said it does happen. And he doesn't want to see any of his kids hurt or worse.

"We carry the people's most precious cargo, their children. And where that concern is we don't take any chances," said Sisk.

The district will unveil ten of the stop sign cams shortly and want to roll out another ten right after that. They're exploring possible grants to help supplement some of the cost but say regardless the cameras will be going on the buses soon. And district leaders have already identified the areas they want to target first.

"We have a lot of stops on Highway 72 and Highway 31,” said Limestone County Schools Director of Transportation Rusty Bates. “That seems to be our worst places for running our stop signs."

The change can't happen soon enough for Cornelison because if anything ever happens to her kids, she doesn't know what she'd do.

"You would never get over that, you would never drive a bus again, you'd probably never sleep again at night,” said Cornelison. “Those children, we love them."

Limestone County Schools leaders will try to stay one step ahead and they believe installing these cameras does exactly that. The district's transportation director says some might question the cost and whether they should use that money for other educational purposes but his response to that is you can never put a price on keeping kids safe.

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