Lafayette eyeing school bus traffic cameras

That flash of light indicating a camera has captured a motorist driving badly at one of the major intersections across Lafayette could be coming to a school bus near you.

The Lafayette Parish School System is testing traffic surveillance cameras on three of its buses to gather information on the number of motorists who disobey bus stop signs. After a review of the data gathered over the next few weeks, the district could consider contracting with a traffic monitoring company to ticket violators, said Damon Evans, school system transportation director.

The district partnered with Redflex Traffic Systems to test the cameras for a four- to six-week period, which began the week before students left for the holiday break in December. The testing resumed this week.

Reviews from the three cameras after the first week showed 10 illegal passes that could result in tickets, Evans said. During the testing period, tickets aren’t being issued.

“It’s about safety. I could care less about the tickets. It would take only one time for someone to run a stop-on and injure the child,” Evans said.

Bus drivers deploy stop signs — called stop-ons — each time they stop to drop off or take in a student. Motorists are required to stop — even on four-laned roads.

That doesn’t always happen, and one motorist’s bad behavior prompted the school system to partner with Redflex to test the system, Evans said.

“I was auditing one of the routes one day and was behind a bus, and we went to a stop and a car passed illegally,” Evans said. “I discontinued the audit from the bus and followed that one person, and once they stopped, I called police and they issued a ticket.”

Evans said Redflex had contacted him earlier in the school year, but he hadn’t seriously considered a camera monitoring program until he saw the need himself.

Jessica Stelly has seen the violations firsthand in the dozen years she’s driven Lafayette Parish students to and from school.

“They’re bad,” she said of Lafayette drivers.

She’s seen it all — even motorists using the road shoulders to pass her stopped bus.

“The only thing we can really do is blow the horn,” Stelly said.

Stelly said she tells her students to wait for her confirmation before crossing the road.

“I had put one of my kids off and had a truck come and was not stopping. I blew the horn and the kid stopped. I always tell them to watch me so I can make sure it’s safe for them to cross,” she said.

Stelly said she hopes the cameras make an impact.

At the conclusion of the program next week, Evans said, his staff will review violations and make a recommendation on whether the district should continue the camera program with Redflex or any other monitoring company.

“There’s no cost to the district, even if we continue with the cameras,” Evans said.

It’s possible any deal could create revenue for the district; however, details would need to be worked out during any contract negotiations with a monitoring company, Evans said.

At this time, Redflex is not used by any other school district in the state, said Jody Ryan, Redflex Traffic Systems communications director.

The city of Lafayette has contracted with Redflex for the past six years for red light and speed enforcement via traffic cameras. The company issues civil citations to alleged violators. While the civil citations don’t involve the same consequences as citations issued by law enforcement — potential criminal fines, jail time or license revocation — it could mean a hit to one’s credit report. The company reports nonpayment of the civil violations to collectors. In July, the city gave the contractor the go-ahead to file lawsuits against those with unpaid violations of $125 or more over the past three years, but so far, no lawsuits have been filed.