CHICAGO — The Illinois Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would allow school buses to be equipped with traffic enforcement cameras to catch drivers who illegally pass a stopped bus.
Senate Bill 923 would allow municipalities and their school districts to install cameras on buses in order to fine drivers $150 to $500.
The fine would apply to motorists who disobey the law by driving past a stopped school bus that has its lights flashing and stop sign extended while loading or unloading children.
Supporters say equipping buses with cameras would stop a common and dangerous offense. But others see the plan as just another way government is using cameras to raise revenues.
Vehicle owners caught on camera would face a fine of $150 for the first violation and $500 for every subsequent infraction. Much like red light cameras or Chicago's pending speed camera program, the tickets would be mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle.
"This bill doesn't prevent accidents," said Sen. Dan Duffy (R-Lake Barrington), a longtime opponent of automated camera enforcement. "What it does is issue a ticket after the fact. It's a way for camera companies to make millions of dollars on the backs of taxpayers."
Bob Riley, of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, says motorists illegally passing buses is a significant problem.
According to an annual survey by the association, motorists ignore the no-passing law tens of thousands of times a day.
"There are 16-18 fatalities with buses a year — about two thirds occur outside the bus," said Riley. "More kids get killed walking to and from school."
"It happens every day," sighed a local bus driver who didn't want to be identified. "It's a real problem."
Brian Costin, of the Illinois Policy Institute, sees real problems with the bill.
"What's really interesting to me is that it makes school districts policemen for the general public," says Costin. "It's alarming school districts would have so much power normally reserved by police departments."
According to Mary Shaw, a spokeswoman for the bill's sponsor, Sen. Antonio Munoz (D-Chicago), the school district that catches the offending motorist would get the fines from the violations.
According to the Chicago Public Schools website, more than 1,500 buses transport children to and from public schools every day.
Costin believes a fleet of 1,500 camera-equipped buses in Chicago and thousands of buses statewide, combined with so many drivers violating the law, could generate millions of dollars.
"It has the potential to generate tons of revenue," says Costin.
The bill passed 36-12 with two abstentions and now goes to the State House.
Repeated attempts to speak with Munoz were made, but he declined to comment.