Cameras to help nab drivers who ignore bus signals

In this demonstration using an empty school bus, a car is driven past with the stop lights activated to show how cameras catch motorists who pass stopped school buses.

In this demonstration using an empty school bus, a car is driven past with the stop lights activated to show how cameras catch motorists who pass stopped school buses.

Impatient drivers might be on camera the next time they decide to blow by a school bus with the its stop signals engaged. And that could cost them $450.

Cameras are being installed on a handful of buses that will activate when the flashing lights, signs and stop bars are deployed by a school bus. Sitting behind those red octagons telling drivers to stop and wait for children to load and unload, are two cameras.

If people drives past the bus when they shouldn’t, those cameras will record the transgression and alert human monitors. If they look at the footage and determine it looks like the driver is in the wrong, they forward it to Fairfield police.

Once an officer has reviewed the footage, if they still think the driver broke the law they will issue a $450 ticket. All of this without having to actually be right there with the bus at the time of the incident.

Lt. James Perez is tasked with helping integrate the system into the department’s routine. He praised the implementation and said he is impressed that for the first time in his 20 years of service, the laws concerning video footage being used to address traffic issues are being eased.

“With this they are saying that seeing it on video is the same as an officer observing it in person, that’s huge,” said Perez during a demonstration of the technology.

This camera has been installed on five Fairfield school buses to catch driver’s that pass a bus when its stop signals are engaged.

This camera has been installed on five Fairfield school buses to catch driver’s that pass a bus when its stop signals are engaged.

The cameras, which are installed on five buses for now, come to the town at no cost. The company who installs and monitors them gets compensated out of the money collected on tickets to caught violators.

Of a $450 ticket, Fairfield will recover $125. The state takes 20%. The remainder goes to REDFLEX Traffic Systems, who created, maintain and monitor the Student Guardian technology.

Perez said that previously the state collected the majority of the funds from traffic violations with a small percentage coming back to the town. This change means the state gets less, the town gets slightly more and it comes at no direct cost to the municipality.

“They have to take out their percentage but we welcome it because that is money we wouldn’t have seen anyway,” Perez said.

Thomas O’Connor, President of REDFLEX’s New Haven division, said the system includes motion sensors and a computer system that determines if the bus is stopped. If the conditions are met and it detects a driver possibly making an illegal pass, the footage is uploaded to servers where his team can review it before passing it on to police.

Each day officers assigned to review the footage can log in to a queue. Ultimately, it is the local law enforcement who decide if what is on the video constitutes a violation.

Previously, officers had to actually observe a driver break the law and illegally pass a school bus to issue a ticket. While bus drivers and concerned citizens could report an infraction, all the police were able to do would be to issue a warning to the alleged culprit.

Seeing them on video and being able to use that to issue a ticket, is a game changer.

Perez said in the communities where people have been caught with the Student Guardian cameras, 97% of the tickets contested have been upheld by the court. The remaining 3% he said were reduced solely based on hardship, not on the validity of the charge itself.

Several communities already participate in the Student Guardian program. Stratford was one of the pilot communities and began testing and implementation nearly a year ago, according to O’Connor. He said it has proven quite effective.

At police headquarters, a demonstration was shown of an actual alleged violator in Stratford. The bus’ stop bar can clearly be seen deploying and then a vehicle zips past. The cameras give a clear view of the make and model of the vehicle and even more importantly, the license plate.

Most school buses in town already have monitoring systems installed to monitor the students. Signage is posted inside the buses to let students know they are on camera. That footage can be used in determinations for disciplinary actions.

With only five of the buses carrying the Student Guardian cameras for the time being, the town does not want to advertise exactly what routes those buses are on. Driver’s would be well advised to presume they all do, or just make a habit of not passing a stopping school bus in the first place.

“Nothing is changing for people who follow the law,” Fairfield Police Chief Gary MacNamara said. “For those who don’t however, the law and their penalties now have a better means of catching up with them.”

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