School buses armed with cameras

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Three Naugatuck school buses are equipped with cameras like the one pictured above to catch motorists who do not stop for school buses. –LUKE MARSHALL
Three Naugatuck school buses are equipped with cameras like the one pictured above to catch motorists who do not stop for school buses. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — With the start of school just days away, officials issued a reminder to drivers to be mindful of school buses. Those who aren’t may receive a hefty fine.

“This is the right time of year to get awareness out into the community about stopping for school buses when our children are loading and unloading,” Student Guardian President Tom O’Connor said during a press conference at the Naugatuck Police Department Aug. 27.

The Arizona-based Student Guardian provided and installed cameras on three of Naugatuck’s school buses in March to catch drivers who pass stopped buses when the buses’ red lights are flashing and the stop sign is extended.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said the borough wants to make sure that its residents are aware that school buses are returning to the streets and to pay attention while driving.

“We want to make sure, as we start the school year, that you’re very conscience of the students and the buses that are around the borough. This program will help us,” Mezzo said.

The first day of school for Naugatuck is Wednesday. The day begins at 7:30 a.m. for Naugatuck High School students, followed by City Hill Middle School at 8 a.m., the intermediate schools at 8:20 a.m. and elementary schools at 8:55 a.m.

Naugatuck police spokesman Lt. Bryan Cammarata said about 35 violations have been issued since the cameras were installed on the buses in March.

The average fine is $450.

O’Connor said funding for the cameras comes from the tickets issued. Once the fine is paid, approximately 60 percent of the money goes to Student Guardian for the upkeep and management of the cameras, with the remainder of the money coming back to the state and borough.

O’Connor said the cameras capture both videos and still images of cars that pass the bus as well as oncoming traffic that does not stop. The footage goes through both computer and human verification before it is uploaded to the police department, he said. Police then make the final determination on whether a violation occurred.

Cammarata said the police department does not want to be the driving force behind this program. He hopes that word gets out to residents and they drive more carefully around school buses and be aware that there are children at risk when a school bus stops.

“The younger the kids the more spontaneous they are with getting out there. Some of them are excited to be getting back to school so they may be darting out into the road,” Cammarata said.

O’Connor said the National Association of Pupil Transportation performed a study which found on average across the country one stopped school bus is passed per day.

“That’s 15 million chances for a child to get hit, injured, killed,” O’Connor said.