ALBANY — A coalition of advocates are calling on Long Island school officials to give the green light to a life-saving school bus camera program.
As Monday marks the beginning of National School Bus Safety Week, the groups called on the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association, the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents and Suffolk County School Superintendents Association to opt in to a new state measure meant to deter reckless drivers who refuse to stop for buses when kids are picked up or dropped off.
The program allows school districts across the state to mount cameras that can easily catch motorists in the act of unlawfully passing stopped school buses.
“Short of having a police escort following each and every bus on their morning and afternoon routes – something we can all agree no municipality in the nation is equipped to do – the installation of stop-arm cameras is the best weapon we can deploy to stop this dangerous behavior before it starts,” the NY Coalition for Transportation Safety, NY School Bus Contractors Association and Long Island Streets wrote.
The deterrent simple, but effective. If a bus is illegally passed, the camera, mounted on the swinging stop sign affixed to the side of the bus, turns on, capturing the driver’s license plate.
The picture is then sent electronically to local authorities who can dole out fines, but no moving violations or points will be issued.
A pilot version of the program conducted earlier this year in East Meadow, Long Island, run by BusPatrol, one of the firms behind the technology, and the Logan Bus Company, captured a total of 615 violations in a month. The cameras were affixed to just nine buses.
Nassau cops, who have to witness someone passing a bus in person in order to issue a violation, meanwhile, ticketed only 79 people for the dangerous infraction in all of 2018.
City Council member Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) has proposed a bill that would allow the city to opt-in and institute the safety measure in the five boroughs. The idea is gaining momentum as lawmakers plan a hearing on the issue within the next month.
On the Island, Nassau County recently passed a bill allowing local districts to opt into the program and Suffolk lawmakers are expected to take up legislation in the coming weeks.
But the decision to embrace the new high-tech tool to catch careless drivers is ultimately up to local school boards.
“Opting into this stop-arm camera program would be a benefit to all school districts - large and small – providing a cost-free safety tool that can mean the difference between life and death for our children,” the letter, also signed by the Family & Children’s Association, the Urban League Long Island and the Logan Bus Company, reads. “While we commend our state and local government leaders for taking action, the final step is up to the school districts.”
Gov. Cuomo signed the bill, which also upped the fines for repeat offenders, into law in August. Under the measure, schools won’t have to pony up funds for the tech, as money collected in fines will be used to pay for the cameras and GPS units.