ALBANY - The New York Association for Pupil Transportation has announced its support for legislation introduced by Senator Catharine Young (R,C,I-Olean) that would take major steps toward improving safety for children who ride school buses in New York State.
The legislation - S. 5028 - would be known as the School Bus Camera Safety Act and would specifically allow school districts and school bus contractors to install cameras on its school buses that would engage once the Stop Arm of the bus is extended when the bus comes to a stop to pick up or discharge students. The camera would capture images of the vehicle and license plate and those images would be used to issue a summons to the registered owner of the vehicle. Currently, a ticket can be issued only by a police officer who witnesses the violation.
"In New York, we have an on going and critical problem of motorists endangering children by passing stopped school buses," NYAPT President Richard Gallagher said "Senator Catharine Young has now introduced significant legislation that would allow school buses to be equipped with Stop Arm cameras and permit the evidence taken from those cameras to be used in prosecuting violators of Section 1174 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law."
"The number of school buses that are passed illegally each day is startling and something must be done to protect innocent children who are traveling to and from school," Senator Young said. "Far too often these drivers are never caught for committing such a dangerous violation and students are continually put in harm's way. This bill would bring these drivers to justice and prevent them from getting away with such egregious crimes."
At least eight other states have enacted similar legislation in response to a growing national concern over illegal passing or "stop arm violations."
"NYAPT applauds those states for their action in the face of a growing problem that presents a clear and constant risk to the safety of our children," NYAPT Executive Director Peter Mannella said. "It's time for New York to enact our own legislation for our children."
Over many years, NYAPT has advocated for stricter laws governing illegal passing and for the installation of cameras on school buses for this purpose. In 2007, NYAPT conducted demonstration programs using digital license plate readers on school buses in several school districts including Syracuse, Canandaigua, Bethlehem and Brewster. For example, in the Syracuse pilot project the camera recorded illegal passes at a rate of 1.6 times per day for the bus involved in the project.
Since 1993, NYAPT has cooperated with local law enforcement agencies and school bus operators across the state to conduct Operation Safe Stop, which is an enforcement and education program focused on illegal passing. Over 1,300 tickets are written for violations of Section 1174 on an average Operation Safe Stop Day, indicating the severity of illegal passing as a traffic safety problem.
"NYAPT members will be contacting their legislators and encouraging parents and school leaders across the state to support this important safety-related legislation," NYAPT Legislative Committee Chairman Anthony Quaranta said. "We are all excited that this legislation is under consideration and we hope for its passage. We call on all who care about the safety of our children to get behind this important proposal."
"Operation Safe Stop has annually called attention to this danger for our children," Operation Safe Stop Chairman Thomas Weeks said. "This legislation will bolster the efforts of the school bus community as well as the dedicated work of our partners in law enforcement. We urge passage of this legislation in New York."
Mannella further noted the association had conducted a survey of school districts and school bus drivers on Wednesday, May 1 and found the 236 school bus drivers who participated in the survey reported 306 illegal passes including six "right side" passes. That represents an average of 1.28 illegal passes per school bus, which would bring the estimated number of illegal passes to over 64,000 on that day.
The proposed legislation includes the following provisions:
retains the current fine structure for violations witnessed by a police officer;
establishes a minimum fine of between $250 and $400 with no points for a first violation when the violation is based on the camera-based evidence, with increasing penalties for repeat offenses;
requires suspension of the license of a motorist who has been convicted multiple times of violating Section 1174;
makes it a crime of aggravated assault when a motorist injures another individual as a result of illegally passing a stopped school bus;
makes it a crime of criminally negligent homicide, a class E Felony, when a motorist takes the life of another individual as a result of illegally passing a stopped school bus and third-degree assault, also a class E Felony, if injury to another person is caused; and
establishes a School Bus Safety Education Program fund derived from fines collected from violations of Section 1174 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law.
Other states that have enacted similar legislation include Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Iowa, Virginia, Connecticut and Washington.
Members of the New York Association for Pupil Transportation joined with manufacturers and distributors of Stop Arm camera technology and equipment in Albany to demonstrate the equipment and to view and share footage of motorists being filmed while passing school buses.