EDITORIAL: Watch out, bus-pass jerks

IT SOUNDS SO SIMPLE. Add a camera and maybe save the lives of children. In this case, school children, specifically the ones who ride school buses. They deserve extra protection, don’t they?

Not in this state.

School buses are very safe. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration puts a number on it: “Students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking a school bus instead of traveling by car.” But the risk goes up when they enter or exit the bus, not having anything to do with the bus but because some of the vehicles that approach a stopped school bus are driven by jerks.

Take your pick: these drivers are either too distracted, too self absorbed or too ignorant to obey the laws in this and many other states that require them to stop for a stopped school bus that has its warning lights blinking and its large stop “arm” extended with a bright red STOP at the end. Any driver who doesn’t notice these warning signs is drunk, stoned or a virtual weaponized captive of a mobile device.

The estimates vary on how often drivers pass stopped school buses. The Forbes website cites a nationwide study four years ago that found 75,000 drivers each school day ignore the requirement to stop. It happens here, too, roughly 10 times a day in the Ichabod Crane Central School District, says Dan Doyle, the district’s transportation director.

The issue came up at a recent meeting of the school board meeting. ICC has six buses this year that have with stop arms fitted with cameras to record any bus-pass incidents. In some states those cameras are used not only to capture the plate number of the bus-pass jerk. The cameras can also issue the jerk a $250 ticket by mailing it to the vehicle’s owner.

If being a bus-pass jerk results in a big fine would it persuade anyone to behave better behind the wheel? We could find out if the state Assembly would adopt a bill already approved in the state Senate to authorize stop-arm camera tickets when drivers pass stopped school buses. The measure, called the School Bus Camera Safety Act, was led by Senator Catharine Young (R-57th). She claims violations have dropped by double digits in states that issue automated tickets from bus-pass cameras.

We could achieve the same result by assigning a police officer to drive behind every school bus every day. But that would cost taxpayers so much that we wouldn’t have enough money left over to keep the schools open. And under current law the police can’t use bus-pass images alone to prove a violation. So the School Bus Camera Safety Act is an attempt to fill in the gap. The camera-based fine does not show up on the driver’s license as points that raise insurance rates and doesn’t involve the police.

This bus safety bill seems so simple except that in New York politics nothing is simple. As recently as this summer a different bill was stalled in the legislature that would extend a similar project in New York City–cameras that could issue speeding tickets to drivers on streets near schools. But that bill too has languished.

The state Assembly has the School Bus Camera Safety Act bill now. The bill has Assembly sponsors and has bounced around committee meetings since January, but it has never been put to a vote on the floor. Most likely it is a hostage to the kind of you-pass-mine-and-I’ll-pass-yours type of horse trading.

Political deal making where the safety of children is concerned stinks. As the Assembly bill makes clear, the costs are small if you’re talking about money. Cameras are cheap and schools already order their buses with cameras attached. ICC buses have five cameras each. Compare all that to the price we all pay if we have even one child injured or killed by a bus-pass jerk who might have been encouraged to stop by the realistic prospect of a costly ticket.

The state legislature is in recess now and won’t be back in session until after the election unless the governor orders the members to return. Now is a good time, just before the election, to let our Assembly members know that we care about protecting our children and grandchildren. Ask Assembly members Barrett (106th), Ashby (107th) and Tague (102nd) why the School Bus Camera Safety Act bill is not yet a law and when they will vote to make it one.

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