by Joseph C. Bond | Superintendent, Bay Shore Union Free School District
The start of a new school year brings with it great promise and possibility. Students open new notebooks and write with freshly sharpened pencils. It is an opportunity for students to begin again with a clean slate and rededicate themselves to pushing the limits of their own creativity and mind.
September also brings with it the return of school buses to the road to carry our students to and from our school buildings. New York State law requires that all vehicles traveling in both directions stop for a stopped school bus. This includes buses on multilane highways and on school property.
It is extremely alarming to me that many drivers do not follow this law.
In Bay Shore, we participated in an initiative with the New York Association for Pupil Transportation to track the number of illegal bus passes on one day of each month. After collecting data for eight months, what we discovered was disturbing. There was only one day on which the number of illegal passes less than 85. The average number of drivers ignoring the law on any given day was 91.
These numbers do not take into account that on one day, there were also four cars that passed on the right side of the bus — the side on which children board. On another day, a car making an illegal pass drove close enough to the bus to rip off the extended stop sign.
This problem is not limited to Bay Shore. The governor’s traffic safety committee makes it clear that the problem is statewide. The data they compiled in conjunction with Operation Safe Stop shows that each day in our state, an estimated 50,000 vehicles make illegal passes of stopped school buses.
The consequences of these illegal pass goes far beyond the fines and jail time that can be imposed by law enforcement. Each pass represents the possibility that a child will lose his or her life.
Early in my teaching career, a student in my class was struck by a hit-and-run driver illegally passing his school bus. While the student survived, he spent months in traction recovering from his injuries. I visited him in the hospital not long after the accident and saw first-hand how devastating the impact can be.
So what is the answer to this very real threat to our children? It’s simple, really: We all need to slow down. Too often, people are in too much of a rush to get from one place to another. We need to take our time and be aware of our surroundings.
Historically, civilizations are judged by how they treat the citizens who most need protection. I cannot think of a group within our society that requires our protection and care more than our children. To put their lives in danger because you are in a rush to beat traffic is nothing short of reckless endangerment.
When your lack of care for these smallest among us results in someone being injured or killed, I do not want to hear you say you are sorry.
It will be meaningless.
In the coming months, I will be joining others across New York State in urging our legislators to increase the penalties for passing stopped school buses. I will also be fighting to make enforcement easier. Currently, a police officer would have to be present and witness the illegal pass in order for a driver to receive a citation.
We need legislation from our state officials that will permit cameras to be placed on buses. These cameras would begin recording when the bus driver activates the extended stop sign. It would allow law enforcement to review the footage from buses and penalize violators that otherwise would have gone unpunished.
The bottom line is that we need to do more as a society to prevent the unnecessary injuries to our children from illegal passes. Remember: Passing a stopped school bus is more than just illegal; it is a selfish, reckless act that puts our children in danger.
Joseph C. Bond is the Superintendent of Schools for the Bay Shore Union Free School District. He has been in education for 25 years.