Suffolk County’s new school bus camera program, aimed at drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses, will launch Monday, although warnings will be issued during an initial 60-day period, officials said.
The program won’t issue fines before May 1 as officials seek to educate motorists about the law and warn drivers that violations soon will cost them, officials said.
"As a father of three children, nothing is more important than ensuring their safety and well-being," County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement. "This new technology will ensure that our students will be further protected against dangerous driving when they are boarding a bus to go to school."
The Suffolk bus camera program is expected to be the largest of its kind in the nation, according to Jean Soulière, CEO of BusPatrol America, which will operate the program.
The company, based in Virginia, will pay for all program costs and receive 45% of fee and penalty revenue, while the county will get 55%, officials said.
State officials in 2019 estimated drivers pass school buses illegally more than 150,000 times statewide during a 180-day school year.
Longwood and Bay Shore school district officials testified in 2019 that cars passed their buses illegally more than 80 times a day.
About half the 4,500 school buses in Suffolk will be equipped with cameras by the program’s launch Monday, said Steve Randazzo, assistant deputy county executive.
Seventy Suffolk school districts — all but the Connetquot Central School District — have joined the program, Randazzo said. Connetquot officials did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Buses will have bumper stickers warning that cameras will record when red lights flash, officials said. The cameras deploy when the bus stop-arm is out and can capture license plates over eight lanes of traffic.
Suffolk County Legis. Anthony Piccirillo (R-Holtsville) questioned whether the program will operate like the county’s red-light camera program, which he called a "debacle, which became a money grab."
Southampton Town Police Chief Steve Skrynecki, who led the county's bus safety and implementation committee, said the initial grace period is intended to show that, "this is not designed to generate revenue … but to protect children."
He continued, "This is not a ‘gotcha’ program."
BusPatrol will mail warnings and tickets to violators.
Fines start at $250 and will rise to $275 for a second offense and $300 for a third offense, according to BusPatrol’s contract obtained by Newsday.
A late fee of $25 will be charged if drivers do not respond to citations within 30 days, and payment plans will be available.
Ticket recipients have the right to request hearings in which videos can be reviewed, county officials said.
Officials said they were still determining whether drivers on divided highways such as Route 347 will get tickets if they don’t stop for buses on the opposite side of the road, as required by state law.
Nassau County officials have selected a vendor for its school bus camera program but has not yet signed a contract.