A new law means drivers who illegally pass a stopped school bus in South Carolina are more likely to get hit in the wallet.
The law, signed in June, allows law enforcement to write traffic tickets after reviewing video captured by cameras installed on school buses. Previously, an officer had to personally witness the illegal passing to prosecute -- unless injuries resulted and boosted the charge to a felony.
Buses for the Beaufort County School District are not equipped with exterior cameras, but student services officer Gregory McCord said they might be worth considering.
Installing the cameras would be too costly unless the district finds a company to do it for free, McCord said. In the past, he has spoken with companies willing to do so in exchange for receiving some of the money from the tickets.
Never miss a local story.
McCord said he plans to research the district's options in the coming weeks.
"It might be a chance to reduce the number of offenders, as well as get additional cameras on our buses," McCord said.
In counties that take advantage of the new law, it will likely act as a greater deterrent than the presence of law enforcement, Senior Trooper Hannah Wimberly of the S.C. Highway Patrol said.
Troopers periodically trail buses to catch offenders as part of back-to-school safety campaigns, she said. Still, citations are rare.
The Highway Patrol has given out only two in Beaufort County since 2011, Wimberly said.
The Bluffton Police Department issued six tickets for illegal passing of a bus between 2007 and 2011, and none since, Maj. Joseph Manning said.
Port Royal police have issued two tickets since 2012, Deputy Chief Ron Wekenmann said.
Figures were not available Friday from the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office or Beaufort Police Department.
"You can't really go against someone's word, but now that it's on tape, we can get a tag number, get a visual of who it is, and citations will go up," Wimberly said. "People will probably be scared to even pass (a bus) now."
State Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee, who introduced the measure in May 2013, says that the previous lack of consequences contributed to a growing problem he feared would result in tragedy.
It almost did. His measure was stalled in a Senate subcommittee until mid-May when a car struck a 15-year-old Gaffney High School student as she crossed the street to board her school bus. A photo of the scene, which Alexander distributed to his colleagues, showed her shoes lying in the road and her backpack on top of the bus. Two weeks later, the bill was on its way to Gov. Nikki Haley's desk.
"My goal is to have better compliance," said Alexander. "It's not about the tickets but the safety of the children."
Although now more enforceable, the penalties for passing a stopped school bus haven't changed -- a minimum $500 fee and six license points for a first misdemeanor conviction. That increases to a $2,000 minimum fee for additional convictions. Penalties are higher when injury occurs.
If a bus camera records a violation, an officer would have to determine the identity of the driver and deliver the ticket personally, 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said. The videos would make it more difficult for drivers to contest their charges, especially if a child is struck and seriously injured.
"Video is always crucial evidence," Stone said. "I think you're going to see more and more schools buy these cameras on their buses."
Associated Press staff writer Seanna Adcox and Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette staff writer Rebecca Lurye contributed to this report.