In Liberty, impatient motorists better think twice about passing a school bus with its lights flashing and stop-arm extended.
School officials have installed a new tool -- a stop-arm camera on the dashboard of every bus -- to photograph motorists illegally passing a bus. Liberty is among a handful of school districts nationwide that use the stop-arm cameras to increase student safety.
The Liberty School District has 74 buses, and each camera costs about $400. The digital camera is aimed at approaching vehicles and is designed to catch both the license plate number and the motorist's face, so there's little argument about the violation, said Ken Greer, assistant transportation director.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, students usually are safe once inside the bus. Before they board, however, students must pass through what is called the ?danger zone,? where their chances of getting struck by a vehicle increase significantly. The danger zone is the area where students get on and off the bus.
The administration estimates that, nationally, 23 school-age children die annually in a school-bus related wreck - 17 of which occur as they get on or off the bus.
Sgt. Rick Fletcher of the Missouri Highway Patrol works off duty as the school district?s security director.
He estimates the district has logged more than 100 convictions in Clay County Circuit Court of motorists for illegally running the stop-arm since the district experimented with the cameras about a year ago.
"To my knowledge, we haven't had any (cases) dismissed or lost any," he said. "Half (the motorists) say they didn't see the school bus, and when they hit the brakes, it was too late."
Fletcher estimates that 70 to 80 percent of the violators are high school students.