Long Island’s school buses will soon be equipped with new technology that automatically generates traffic tickets for drivers who illegally pass a bus when it’s stopped while children get on or off.
Nassau and Suffolk county lawmakers have approved legislation authorizing local school districts to start the process of contracting the devices known as school bus stop-arm cameras after New York State legalized the photo enforcement method earlier this year.
“I have seen cars zooming past stopped school buses,” said Suffolk County Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-East Islip), the legislature’s Republican leader. “I have witnessed near misses. We have to do everything in our power to protect our kids.”
Twenty-one states nationwide have legalized school bus stop-arm cameras that mail home fines to drivers who break laws against driving by a stopped school bus, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Vehicles pass stopped school buses about 50,000 times daily, according to statistics provided by the New York Association for Pupil Transportation, a nonprofit school bus safety advocacy group that also has been calling for the cameras for years.
Under the law, violators will be fined $250 for a first offense, $275 for a second offense within 18 months, and $300 for a third or subsequent offenses within 18 months.
Critics have called such traffic-enforcement cameras intrusive and a ploy for lawmakers to plug budget gaps in the name of public safety — an argument similarly applied to red-light cameras and LI’s short-lived school zone speed cameras.
“They have to have some protections there for the data,” Jason Starr, the former Nassau County chapter director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, has said.
Proponents maintain that the goal of the bus cameras is to help protect kids, not track drivers. Among those who testified at the county legislatures to lobby for passage of the laws were kids themselves. But even traveling to the Suffolk County Legislature to ask for protections put children at risk of drivers who ignore school bus stop signs.
“When we pulled up with our students at the legislative public hearing, our kids were starting to get off the bus when a car whizzed right by in the parking lot while the [school bus] lights were flashing,” a Longwood School District official told the legislature last month. “Luckily, the bus driver, whose antenna was way up, stopped the kid right away … It’s an accident waiting to happen too often.”
Educators say kids and parents don’t need the extra stress caused by such a simple task as crossing the street on their way to or from the school bus.
“Students face a lot of worries between school, college acceptances, sports, studies,” Dawn Sharrock, a Middle Country Board of Education vice president, also told the legislature. “We don’t need to make getting on and off their school bus daily one of those worries that they have to have.”