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Monday, January 09, 2017

School Bus Safety Tops BOE Agenda

By James Lomuscio

Westport’s school transportation coordinator pitched the Board of Education two items tonight to further safeguard children on school buses -— three-point, shoulder lap seat belts and cameras to catch scofflaws who pass stopped buses.

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Initially, four buses would be equipped with cameras to nab drivers who ignore the bus’s flashing lights. ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

While the board took no action on either proposal, some board members favored both.

Chairman Michael Gordon expressed strong support for the proposed RedFlex Student Guardian camera system designed to nab drivers who ignore a school bus’s flashing lights and stop arm. The system allows police to cite violators based on vehicle and license plate photos and video evidence received.

A RedFlex representative who appeared with district transportation coordinator Sandy Evangelista stressed the system would be placed on 10 percent of the town’s 40-bus Dattco fleet—and that it would come at no cost to the town. It would be funded by each $450 violation fine, about two to three per week, she said.

“I think this is a no-brainer because of the cost of entry,” said Gordon.

He added that with the risk passing motorists pose to children exiting buses, “I think it should be a $450 fine and embarrassment,” with offenders photos being published.

The Guardian system involves three cameras on each bus. One records a live video stream once the bus’s flashing stop lights are activated. The other two follow the vehicle, recording its tag number to forward pictures to the Police Department. The company states it has a 92 percent catch rate of tag numbers.

Board member Mark Mathias initially expressed some concern about Big Brother, as well as if the system would place an added burden on the town’s police.

“Chief (Foti) Koskinas has a strong interest in the program, and he is in full support,” said Elio Longo, school business administrator.

“If he’s cool with it, I don’t have a problem,” Mathias said.

Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer said that school bus drivers “are so concerned” about impatient drivers passing them that she once saw a bus driver positioning his vehicle diagonally across the road to block traffic both ways.

“We really want to keep our children safe,” she said in support of the project.

According to Evangelista, the buses equipped with the cameras would be rotated, so that drivers would not know what buses on what routes would have them installed.

Regarding three-point seat belts, Evangelista said that the 13 new buses scheduled for 2018 would have them installed for a total cost of $120,900. To retrofit the remaining fleet the cost would soar to $492,800.

Palmer said that when she and Evangelista go out to bid the future school bus contract, “we will do so to have seat belts on all buses.’

The necessity of seat belts on school buses has long been debated nationally as well as in Westport. Opposing arguments include children not being able to get off a bus quickly in the event of fire or landing in water.

It has also been argued that seat belts are unnecessary since the seats in front of the children, except for those in the first seats, are cushioned.

Palmer suggested that perhaps retrofitting only the front seats would be a solution until a the town gets a new fleet with belts on all buses.

Despite the naysayers, Mathias said he was a strong supporter of seat belts on buses.

“The federal government does not say seat belts save lives ... unless you are on a bus,” he said.

“The laws of physics apply to a bus,” he added. “If (the children) are not stopped, they’ll keep moving.”

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Posted 01/09/17 at 11:15 PM



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