02 Jun Watertown Daily Times | Oswego County drivers pass stopped …
Central Square Central School District Superintendent Thomas Colabufo says it happens every day.
Cars and trucks driving right by stopped Central Square buses loading or unloading children. The lights are flashing on the buses, the stop sign arms are out, but still, “it’s an every-day occurrence,” he said.
Recently, people throughout the country got to see just how scary this problem is when a video of a Norwich City School District bus driver aired, showing the driver grabbing a student as he started to step off the bus. A car illegally passed the bus on the right at the same spot where the student was exiting. Bus driver Samantha Call pulled him back to save him from being hit by the illegally passing car.
“We are extra vigilant about this and don’t assume everyone will stop,” Colabufo said. “We’ve seen people drive on people’s lawns to get around a bus.”
Nancy Squirs, director of finance and business with the Oswego City School District, said in a recent transportation meeting for Oswego school bus drivers, “the drivers were asked if they were ever passed with their red lights on. Ninety-five percent of the drivers raised their hands,” she said.
The drivers also said it doesn’t happen just once, but numerous times a year, she said.
On May 1, Oswego school officials participated in the 2019 National School Bus Illegal Passing Survey requested by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services. The district recorded nine illegal passers that day.
“Often we cannot get the license plate numbers to turn in to the police department,” Squirs said.
The New York Legislature recently passed a law that would authorize the use of “stop-arm” cameras on school buses. The camera would photograph vehicles that pass a bus illegally and those motorists would then be ticketed. The law is awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature.
“The safety of our children is paramount,” Cuomo in a news release, “and we are committed to ensuring our youngest New Yorkers make it to and from school safely and that motorists who endanger these students are held accountable for their reckless actions. This year I advanced legislation to allow school districts and municipalities to install cameras on school buses.”
“I commend the Legislature for reaching an agreement on this critical issue and I look forward to seeing it passed and to signing it into law, making New York one of the first states to use this technology to protect the safety of our school children,” Cuomo said.
David Christopher, executive director of the New York State Association for Pupil Transportation, based in Albany, said his organization has been trying to get a bill like this passed for 10 years.
“Children shouldn’t have to worry about being hit by a car,” Christopher said.
But some school officials wonder about the cost of the cameras. Colabufo said he thinks the cameras are a great idea, but his district doesn’t have the money to equip 100 buses with the devices.
“That’s a significant cost,” he said. “It’s a good idea, but the state should make sure it is part of the transportation rebate the districts receive.”
Christopher said the way the program is supposed to work is school districts will partner with local law enforcement agencies. The police agencies will buy the cameras and then they are reimbursed through the fines collected from people ticketed for passing school buses.
“The fine money is used to offset the operational costs,” he said. The cameras cost about $500 each, he said.
Christopher said already, some county sheriffs have stepped up to say they are willing to participate in the program.
But Oswego County Sheriff Donald Hilton said while he believes the cameras are a good idea, he doesn’t think his department would have the money to buy the cameras.
“Like anything out of Albany, they don’t think about the consequences of what they doing and the cost of what they’re doing,” he said. He said it is similar to having body cameras for officers — it’s a great idea but extremely costly.
In addition, Hilton said the police agency would not only front the cost for the school bus cameras, but also would have to have an officer to review the video, record data, track data and handle citations.
Under current law, a ticket can be issued only by a police officer who witnesses the violation. The recently passed bill will permit the evidence taken from school bus safety cameras to be used in prosecuting violators of Section 1174 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law.
Motorists who are caught illegally passing school buses by the cameras will be subject to a minimum $250 fine for a first offense, $275 for a second offense within 18 months and $300 for a third offense or more within 18 months, according to safeny.ny.gov.
According to the National School Transportation Association, an average of nine to 15 children are killed each year while boarding or exiting school buses near traffic, and a total of 15 million illegal passing incidents occur during every 180-day school year.
Congress is also hoping to tackle the school bus safety problem with a bill titled Stop for School Buses Act (H.R. 2218). The bill, cosponsored by Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, was written to find ways to prevent dangerous and illegal passing of school buses.
“As a former school board member and a dad to two young kids, keeping students safe on their way to and from school is personal for me,” Brindisi said in a news release. “Every driver on the road has a responsibility to follow the law and exercise caution when a school bus is near. Our kids’ lives depend on it.”