PennDOT taking over school bus camera ticketing hearings, no program in place months later

PITTSBURGH — 11 Investigates is learning new details about a controversial school bus ticketing program being used by the largest school district in Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Public Schools, and several other local districts.

>> 11 Investigates viewer complaints about school bus cameras wrongly ticketing people

Starting Dec. 22, 2023, a PennDOT hearing officer was supposed to take over the cases. The goal was to take a heavy burden off of local magistrates who were swamped with these civil court hearings. Despite the two months that have passed, PennDOT doesn’t have a program in place yet. PennDOT tells 11 Investigates:

“The updated legislation, allowing violators to contest liability via PennDOT hearing officers either virtually or in-person, went into effect on Dec. 22, 2023. PennDOT is working diligently to develop this new process and implement the program as quickly as possible, minimizing any potential delays for violators who choose to contest liability.” -PennDOT Spokesperson

This comes as some legal experts question the integrity of the program.

>> 11 Investigates digs into people wrongfully ticketed by automated cameras on school buses

Lawyer and WPXI legal analyst Phil DiLucente says the intent behind the law came from the right place, keeping kids safe, but the law needs some serious changes.

“This law is nothing more than a money grab,” DiLucente tells 11 Investigates. “Most of the time you’re seeing situations where they didn’t pass the school bus, or they have the wrong person. We now know the collateral consequences are devastating.”

>> $858,559 in revenue collected in first 6 months of automated school bus camera tickets

The biggest concern DiLucente has is that the law claims these tickets are civil, not criminal and won’t affect your driver’s license.

“But what if in the future you’re in a traffic accident?” DiLucente says. “Is that considered a relevant conduct?”

DiLucente says it’s time for lawmakers to go back to the drawing board.

“When you’re looking at video, video does lie, meaning there’s no sound,” DiLucente adds. “And so that coupled with the lack of length and the identification, I think are very valid defenses.”

Legislators have made some changes. In addition to any ticket issued after Dec. 22 going to a PennDOT hearing officer, there is now an in-person or virtual hearing option, without the $100 court filing fee. But, we’ve heard from viewers who are stuck in limbo, unable to schedule a hearing. Some of them are now getting late fee notices and threats of additional charges.

We did reach back out to PennDOT to see if they have a timeframe for when a program will be in place and what folks should do in the meantime. We will pass along that information as soon as we have it.

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