GORHAM, Maine — Maine school bus drivers are noticing more drivers ignoring their blinking red stop signs when they pull over to let kids on or off the bus.
More Maine school districts are adding exterior cameras to their buses to capture video footage of drivers who break the law and put kids in danger.
Gorham schools became the latest district to add more exterior cameras. It added 10 in February, with plans to add seven more, according to facilities and transportation director Norm Justice.
He said his drivers were noticing the problem getting worse at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.
"We hope [the cameras will] have a change in behavior," Justice said. "I would hope that knowing now that we have a means of enforcement, that [drivers will] pay a little closer attention."
Parents are noticing, too.
"I've seen it on my way to work, cars just barreling past," Dave Ciampa, who also works for the district, said. Two of his children attend Gorham schools and ride the buses.
"It boggles my mind. It really just defies my level of logic. You don't know what people are thinking about when they do it," Ciampa said.
On March 16, Cumberland County Sheriff's deputies said 19-year-old Carly Rioux, of Gorham illegally passed a stopped school bus in Standish on the right side, the side where the door lets kids on and off. Video footage of that incident triggered bus drivers around the state.
"It made my heart go in my throat," Joanna Gordon, a bus driver for Gorham schools, said. "That really scared me that people are not paying attention driving. That could have been myself, a car going by my door."
Police charged Rioux with passing a stopped school bus. A first offense carries a minimum fine of 250 dollars.
Other cities, such as Bangor, have had the cameras for two years. Cyr Bus Line, which drives for the district, said the cameras work for catching people but not deterring them.
"It's gotten to be such an epidemic of people not paying attention that this has really helped [catch them]," Judy Wilcox, manager of the Bangor Division of Cyr Bus Line, said. "We hope we don't come to the day where it takes an injury to start paying attention."
"If people are not paying attention, it makes my job harder to make sure I'm paying attention for them and I'm doing what I need to do," Gordon said
In Maine, about 80 percent of students ride the school bus, according to the Maine Department of Education. During the school year in Maine, about 140,000 children are transported on 3,000 school buses by 2,200 school bus drivers over 30 million miles of urban and rural roads.
"This ridership is high compared to 50 percent national student ridership," the DOE wrote in a news release. "To add to this, Maine traditionally has one of the best safety records in the nation."
"Just that moment of 3 seconds of watching her cross the street. It is stressful," Ciampa said. "But hopefully these new safeguards will only prevent this from happening in the future."
Districts including Scarborough, Yarmouth, Bar Harbor, Trenton, RSU 34 (Alton, Bradley, Old Town), Brewer, and Bangor have cameras on their buses, too.