A school bus in the Connetquot School district's Bus depot...

A school bus in the Connetquot School district's Bus depot in Bohemia on May 3, 2011. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The cameras on the bus could go ticket, ticket, ticket.

Suffolk County lawmakers said last week that they would endorse state legislation to allow cameras on school buses to help ticket cars passing as students board and unload.

Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) will seek signatures from fellow county legislators on a letter to state lawmakers, asking them to support bills in the Assembly and Senate. The laws would give school districts the power to enact school bus camera programs, while ticketing would be handled by the county.

"This can allow us to apprehend and penalize violators who put our students at risk," said Browning, a former school bus driver and chairwoman of the county's public safety committee.

The Longwood school district installed cameras on three buses at the start of April as part of a pilot program. Over six school days, the cameras recorded 38 cars passing stopped buses with stop signs extended and red flashing lights, said Gale Winsper, director of transportation of the Longwood School District.

The Longwood program was undertaken to test the equipment; no tickets were issued to the drivers filmed passing stopped buses. The videos were taken on William Floyd Parkway, Route 25 and Route 112.

"This is a major problem," Winsper said at the legislature's Public Safety Committee on Thursday. "This is not for money. This is to save children's lives."

Suffolk County stopped its rollout of school-zone speed cameras last year after watching how Nassau County's program spurred a backlash from residents. After 400,308 tickets were issued from September through November, residents came to suspect the program was more about generating revenue than safety. Nassau officials canceled the program.

Suffolk Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) said approval for the bus cameras would have to be coupled with a "vigorous education campaign" about the law. Some of the 38 cars that passed the stopped Longwood buses were going the other way in lanes separated from the bus by a median. Spencer said he suspected most drivers didn't know they had to stop.

Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said he would support legislation allowing the cameras. But, he said, there would have to be "a healthy public service campaign" about laws of the road.

The School Bus Camera Safety Act, which is in transportation committees in the Assembly and Senate, would allow school districts to install cameras on buses. Recordings of passing cars would be forwarded to police departments.

Winsper said 35 students have been hit by cars in New York State over the past four years.

For a first offense, state law sets the penalty at a $250 to $400 fine, 5 points on the license and possible jail time. Fines for subsequent violations can reach $1,000.

Winsper said that currently, bus drivers can call in cars that pass, but need to record the license plate, among other information, which can be difficult when they're loading and unloading students.

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