Over the course of the current school year, Southington police have issued approximately a dozen tickets to motorists that ignored the stop sign on local school buses and passed as students were being dropped off or picked up.
But police can only issue tickets when an officer is present to witness the violation – that is until now.
, in partnership with the , RedFlex Traffic Safety and New Britain Transportation unveiled a new program Monday that will put cameras on several local school buses to catch images of those who are passing when the stop arm is lit.
“In today’s world we have embraced technology in almost every aspect of our lives and I am pleased that we will pilot this high-tech program pertaining to bus safety,” School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr. said Monday.
The pilot program is scheduled to take place beginning in mid-March and RedFlex Traffic Safety cameras will be installed by RedFlex Traffic Safety for a 60-day period to collect data, staff with New Britain Transportation confirmed.
A total of “four or five” buses will be equipped with the equipment said Fred Cox, director of operations for Southington schools, but the exact routes that will receive the new technology have not been determined yet.
During the pilot testing period, citations will not be issued. Instead, the program is designed to allow data to be collected to determine the frequency and severity of the illegal behavior.
“We will focus the program on routes that are considered more problematic,” Cox said in a phone interview. “Right now, we know there have been a number of problems reported, but we don’t know how frequently this is occurring.”
Police dispatchers said Monday that they receive complaints “all the time” from parents who report cars passing a standing school bus – under state statutes, a standing school bus is defined as a bus that has the stop lights lit to pick-up or drop-off students – but aren’t usually able to issue a citation unless it is witnessed by an officer.
The state is 2011 passed revised legislations in an effort to give school districts and local Board of Education entities more oversight in providing safe transportation to and from school. Without cameras, bus drivers are able to report possible violations to police, according to a subsection of state statute 10-221.
The fine for passing a bus ranges from $100 for a first offense to as much as $500 for repeat offenders. The state would retain 20 percent of these fines for administrative costs, while 80 percent is returned to the school district if a program is in place, such as the video surveillance, to improve student safety.
Cox said it is difficult to prove without evidence and also puts a burden on the drivers, who are already tasked with driving safely, watching for distracted drivers and monitoring student behavior on the bus.
“This will help give them one less thing to worry about,” he said. “It helps prevent our drivers from being distracted and can help even prevent those who might have thought about passing a bus before.”
With the cameras installed, Cox said the video equipment would record each time the bus opens the “stop arm” and continue recording until the arm is turned off. The video would then be transmitted to RedFlex each day and any violations will be forwarded to the Southington Police Department for further review.
Police will then be tasked with determining how many citations they could issue and report the information back to both the school district and RedFlex.
The pilot program will also come at no cost to the taxpayers, Erardi said, and will be funded by RedFlex at no charge to the town.
Cox said once the data is collected, school officials will meet with RedFlex representatives to review the data and determine whether the fines would support the program long-term.
Cox said he believes, based on the number of complaints made in the past, that the program could possibly not only fund the RedFlex surveillance but would also lead to funding for further programs including possible in-bus cameras to monitor children’s behavior.
“This is a program that we think could really benefit the school district long-term at no cost to the town,” Cox said.