Lawmakers are making another run at allowing external cameras on school buses, which would shoot images that would then be used to ticket drivers who illegally pass a stopped school bus picking up or dropping off children.

The fine for illegally passing a school bus would also be raised, to $300 to $500, but bill sponsor Sen. James Whelan, D-Atlantic, said the moves are about increasing safety, not generating more revenues for municipalities, school districts and the private companies hired to install the monitoring cameras.

“The hope here is that the camera would act as a deterrent,” Whelan said. “People maybe sneak past, or they’re the first guy in line and they’re running a little late for an appointment: ‘Well, the heck with it, I’m going to try to run it.’ But if they know there’s a camera there, I think they’re much more likely to wait and let the kids get on and off the bus and be safe.”

Currently, the fines range from $100 for a first offense to $250 for subsequent offenses. Judges can also impose 15 days of community service or jail time.

The full Senate passed a similar plan in June 2015, 35-4, but the idea didn’t advance in the Assembly before the two-year legislative expired in January.

One key change was made in the substitute bill, S211, that was unanimously advanced Monday by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee: Cars hit with a camera-generated violation wouldn’t be assessed the five motor-vehicle penalty points attached to an officer-written ticket for illegally passing a school bus.

Whelan said that’s because the camera can’t necessarily prove who is driving the car.

“You can’t tell. The owner of the car could say, ‘Well, my daughter or my son, my buddy, I lent it to my brother,’ whatever,” Whelan said. “So you’re not going to bother with the points because you don’t know who’s driving. But you know whose car it is.”

The program is somewhat similar the red-light cameras that had been used to ticket people in 25 municipalities, in a pilot program that Gov. Chris Christie’s administration allowed to expire two years ago.

Whelan said he hopes the proposal gets the needed support because it’s about “the safety of the school children of New Jersey.”

Approximately 1,700 tickets a year are issued in New Jersey for improperly passing school buses. Whelan said he hopes the change would lead to fewer incidences, not an increase in tickets or fine revenues.

“I hope nobody ever gets a ticket. I hope that the camera is enough of a deterrent that people will not try to sneak past a school bus because they’re, you know, five minutes later for a dentist appointment or whatever it may be,” Whelan said.

“I believe that if everybody knew there was a camera on that school bus, they’re very unlikely to try to sneak past it,” he said. “So if anything there may be less money coming into the jurisdictions that would be issuing the tickets.”


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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.