School Bus Stop Arm Camera Program on Hold

October 21, 2015

Falls Church City’s innovative stop-arm camera program has been suspended following an advisory opinion issued by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring.

At issue is whether citations of those caught on video passing a stopped school bus can be mailed to the violator, or whether the vehicle owner must be served in person. When the “Video-Monitoring on School Buses” bill became law in 2011, it did not specifically include the “citation-by-mail” provision. As a result, the current handling of citations in the City of Falls Church by mail has stopped pending changes in the legislation.

No one challenged the right of City police to send a ticket through the mail. But Mr. Herring issued the advisory opinion after a request from Albemarle County, which includes Charlottesville. Officials there asked if ticketing by mail was legal, and were told it is not.

Mr. Herring explained that tickets issued by law enforcement in Virginia always have to be served personally, except for those issued by red light cameras, which the state legislature specifically allowed to be handled by mail.

“The school bus camera program was effective,” said Police Chief Mary Gavin. “We hope the legislature will come around to bring this program back.”

No citations from the cameras have been issued since the program was suspended on October 2. Despite the change, it remains illegal to pass a stopped school bus that has its stop arm extended.

The award-winning stop-arm camera program is a partnership between the Falls Church City Public Schools, the City of Falls Church Police Department and American Traffic Solutions (ATS).

It was launched in October 2013, after high-resolution cameras were installed on the exterior of six City school buses. When a school bus has stopped and extended the stop arm, the camera automatically detected when a vehicle was passing.

The violation data and images were wirelessly uploaded to ATS, which were later reviewed by local law enforcement for approval or rejection. If approved, a citation was issued and mailed to the vehicle owner.

Arlington added its own stop-arm camera program this year.

October 21, 2015 


8 Responses to “School Bus Stop Arm Camera Program on Hold”

  1. Stephanie Oppenheimer on October 22nd, 2015 1:15 pm

    In chatting with Kieran Sharpe, Chief Gavin and Wyatt Shields, this is likely (hopefully!) just an issue of old legislative language not keeping up with new technology. I am working on a letter to our State elected officials, requesting that a corrective provision be made when the General Assembly meets early next year. I’ll also post the letter to, and send the letter and link out via social media, in the hopes of getting others to write in/sign the petition if they support the change and would like to see the cameras operational again. Stay tuned if you’d like to join in the effort! :)
    (And a big thank you to Kieran Sharpe, Chief Gavin, Mayor Tarter, and City staff for staying on top of this and being so proactive about getting it rectified!)

  2. Dennis Szymanski on October 22nd, 2015 1:48 pm

    Is it a good assumption that Arlington’s program is also on hold?

  3. Gail R Opitz on October 22nd, 2015 2:13 pm

    If they can’t be mailed, why aren’t served in person? The plate is phototagged, yes? Pull the plate and go for it. Granted, people will deny the registered owner wasn’t driving but, some action is better than no action. This is far more important than just blowing a red light when it turns red (or yellow, in some cases)!

  4. Jay Clark on October 22nd, 2015 2:34 pm

    SO what does this mean for folk that were issued a violation via mail and paid it prior to October 2?

  5. John Leimone on October 22nd, 2015 4:59 pm

    I fully appreciate the role of traffic cameras in preventing accidents and saving lives. However, these cameras only focus on the license plate and description of the vehicle and not on the operator. As a result, sending a citation to the vehicle owner violates the principle of “innocent until proven guilty’.

    This issue was brought home to me when I received a citation for a traffic light violation some 30 days after a camera incident with a minivan I used to own occurred. I realized that I was out of the country at the time and had the plane ticket, boarding pass and hotel bill to prove it and was absolved. Frankly, I am not sure who was driving my vehicle when the infraction occurred

    However, what does a vehicle owner do when he/she has loaned vehicle to a friend or relative who commits an infraction and the owner has no proof or is reluctant to press for the other person to admit guilt. Often, in fact, an owner may not even remember who might have been driving the vehicle in question after a period of 30 days.

    I strongly favor vigoruous steps to improve traffic safety, which is a serious problem in this region and in this City, but I am concerned about legal practices that entrap the innocent. I don’t have any suggestions to resolve this dilemma.

  6. Stephanie Oppenheimer on October 22nd, 2015 6:50 pm

    John, your note reminds me of a period of about a year when I was in a constant fight with DC’s DMV, as I was continually getting citations for unpaid parking tickets, even though I metro’d to work every day. The fines were piling up and I was at my wits end … until at last, I got a citation with an accompanying photo from a red light camera, and discovered the problem: the driver that was running lights and parking illegally was driving a car with an almost identical license plate as mine — except mine had a letter I, this car was a number 1. (And it was a totally different model/make of car.)

    Problem solved! The check I received from DC to pay me back for all the citations I paid in the interim (so they wouldn’t keep doubling while I was trying to figure out the problem) seemed worthy of framing rather than cashing! ?

    So at least for me, the cameras were my salvation, but I do see your point. Still, after seeing kids nearly hit by passing cars, and watching cars blow by our stopped bus every week, I am in support of school bus cameras.

    Adding to your point about it being a dilemma: One thing I hadn’t thought much about before chatting with a Falls Church police officer is this — even if there was a police car stationed at every bus stop to try to nab passing drivers, it could mean that the police car itself would then also have to pass the stopped bus in order to catch the person committing the infraction, doubling the chance of a tragic accident.

    Maybe the solution will finally come when the long-promised self-driving cars become reality?! ?

  7. Another FCC resident on October 22nd, 2015 8:46 pm

    Thanks, Stephanie, for your work in all this – including more work now as it turns out!

  8. Becky Smerdon falls church city on October 23rd, 2015 11:23 am

    Thank you, Stephanie, for your work on this. Is there any hope for the idea of parent volunteers who might act in a cross guard fashion-especially in more dangerous areas? At least as an interim measure?

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