The City of Long Beach and Long Beach Public Schools announced a new effort to combat the scofflaws at a news conference July 10 outside Lido Elementary School and Long Beach Middle School: New cameras on district buses.
Tickets weren’t issued immediately.
A warning period started the day of the news conference and ran until Aug. 6. During this time, a motorist who failed to stop for a school bus when its red lights are flashing and its stop arm is extended would have received a warning letter in the mail about the violation, but not fined. With the warning period now ending, the fine will be $250. For a second violation within 18 months of the first, it will rise to $275, and for a third violation within another 18 months, the fine will increase to $300.
Now, that warning period is over and tickets can start to be administered.
While heading home from school, students and school bus drivers rely on the buses’ stop signs to make each stop safe. Occasionally, a driver on the road, heading toward a stopped bus or coming up from behind it, may not see its stop arm deployed — or may recklessly ignore it — and instantly create a dangerous situation for youngsters getting off the bus who have to cross the street.
The city and the district partnered with BusPatrol, a Virginia-based school bus safety company, to install the Wi-Fi-enabled cameras. When a driver drives past a bus’s stop signs, the camera will take a video of the vehicle, including an image of the license plate, and the driver will be issued a ticket.
“There’s about 3,600 students in the Long Beach School District,” Steve Randazzo, BusPatrol’s executive vice president of government relations, said. “That’s about 3,600 lives that can potentially be more protected through the use of advanced technology on the school buses. We’re just so proud to be the Long Beach community’s technology and safety partner.”
The cameras are powered by artificial intelligence software called Ava, whose “brain,” Randazzo explained, is activated when the bus begins slowing down. Then, when a driver breaks the law, as long as the video evidence captures all of what happened, that’s all the proof that’s needed to establish liability, under the principle of prima facie evidence, according to state law. Ava is activated early to provide clear and complete video images.
“It’s not like a regular traffic ticket, where the police officer potentially has to get summoned to court to say they physically witnessed a person break the law,” Randazzo said. “Because this is a civil violation, it goes to the registered owner of the vehicle — so, through the state law, all the cameras are really responsible for doing is getting a clear picture of that car’s license plate.”
Randazzo said that BusPatrol already had cameras working in 5,000 school buses in Suffolk County, and in the Town of Hempstead, where they were also deployed, more than 1,000 tickets had been issued as of last December. He said that where the cameras are in use, over 90 percent of drivers who break the law are not repeat offenders. “We’re tremendously proud of that,” Randazzo said.
“When this camera program first came to us, the first thing on my mind was that it’s a great way to save the lives of our kids,” Acting City Manager Ron Walsh said. “The message we want to get across is that these types of programs save the lives of children every day in the United States. Every single time passing happens, a child’s life is at risk. It’s about saving lives and keeping the children of our community safe.”
The technology has been installed at no cost to the city. The revenue from the fines will go directly to the city, and Bus- Patrol will be paid over time, with a negotiated percentage of the revenue.