MARIETTA— Confusion broke out in Cobb traffic court Friday after more than 30 drivers charged with illegally passing school buses were released without paying fines or getting any points on their driving records.
Motorists lined the benches of courtroom 1A, many of them scowling as they clutched printouts showing their vehicles zooming past Cobb school buses picking up or dropping off children at stops across the county.
But the mood of the room quickly changed when State Court Judge Eric Brewton took his seat and informed those in attendance their tickets were unenforceable and they could leave.
“This is not a proceeding that is proper,” Brewton said. “You are free to go.”
Cobb Solicitor General Barry Morgan said State Court judges have raised concerns about enforcing the tickets in the past, but Brewton was the first to dismiss violators en masse last week.
In 2012, the county and the Cobb School District partnered with Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions to equip 10 percent of the district’s buses with cameras that record each time a school bus extends its stop arm to halt traffic. And since 2013, more than 42,000 drivers have had tickets mailed to their homes.
Violators receive a $300 fine. That revenue is evenly split between the county, school district and American Traffic Solutions. Collections in the 2017 fiscal year totaled nearly $2.37 million, giving each entity more than $789,300.
Bus drivers say the stop arm cameras are deterring drivers from passing them illegally and the reported number of instances is down from five years ago, but the district still sees about 900 violations each day, school transportation officials said.
But because the fines sent by mail are civil and not criminal in nature, Morgan said many Cobb judges have interpreted the statute to mean they are unenforceable.
“Their opinion is because the notices come from the company rather than the clerk, that it is improper service and venue is incorrect,” Morgan said.