With Fairfield's public schools set to open Thursday, police want to make sure drivers learn the consequences of passing a stopped school bus.

"Safety is paramount," said Officer Paul Medgevy. "When a bus is stopped and has the red lights flashing, cars have to stop 10 feet from the school bus."

If a driver fails to stop, the first offense could cost a $460 fine. If the bus is stopped in a construction zone and a driver ignores those flashing red lights, the fine jumps to $760. Medgevy said in both cases, those fines are for first offenses. Get caught doing it a second time, and the driver has to go to court.

Officer Gary Wikman said the Police Department's new traffic unit will be monitoring random school bus routes in town, following the buses in unmarked cars and enforcing the law.

But police don't necessarily have to see a driver pass a school bus to issue a ticket. Under the law, bus drivers can report motorists who pass stopped school buses to the state, which in turn passes on that information to local department.

Medgevy said officers will then interview the motorist and decide whether to issue a ticket or a warning.

Bus drivers are required to activate the bus's flashing yellow lights 100 feet before it stops to alert motorists. "But that doesn't mean, `Speed up and pass the bus,' " Wikman said. Instead, he said, the driver has been warned to stop.