Earlier this year, I highlighted an important student safety concern – motor vehicles passing stopped school buses. As a reminder, 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.
I told you in September that I found it extremely alarming that many drivers do not follow the law when it comes to stopping for buses. I am even further alarmed that it seems that the number of passes is increasing
In Bay Shore, we participate 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. During the 2015-2016 school year, there was only one day on which the number of illegal passes were less than 85 and the average number of drivers ignoring the law on any given day was 91. Over the past 3 months, the average has risen to 113. The number of passes never fell below 100.
The upward trend in the number of passes is something that should give every resident pause.
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 consequence of these illegal passes 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.
As I pointed out in the beginning of the school year, the solution to this very real problem is simple: 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.
We continue to partner with Suffolk Transportation Services, Inc. to provide a bus safety course to our youngest students. Once a year, students in grades K-5 take part in a classroom session followed by a hands-on safety demonstration on a school bus. Instructors from Suffolk Transportation Services, Inc. review the danger zone around a school bus, and how students can safely and properly cross in front of the bus during pick up and drop off. However, educating our children is not enough.
Earlier this year, I was approached by Richard Gallagher, our Director of Transportation, about a pilot program to test the effectiveness of installing cameras on buses to record bus passes. I immediately authorized Bay Shore’s participation. Working with Suffolk Transportation Services, Inc. and American Traffic Solutions, we have begun capturing this footage. It is our hope that the cameras will eventually aide in the enforcement of the law by removing the need for an officer to be present to witness a bus pass.
I have personally viewed footage from the first days of the cameras’ use. It is jarring to watch drivers wantonly speed past buses that are picking up or dropping off students and hope that the moment doesn’t end in tragedy. You can view a portion of the footage by visiting: https://goo.gl/VSwq0z. I warn you, however, although no children are harmed, it is not easy to watch.
The problem that exists with the pilot program is the lack of available enforcement. Under current law, the only thing we can do with the information we gather is provide a report to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which then issues a letter to the owner of the vehicle. In order for the police to be able to write tickets to these drivers, we need a change in state law. There is legislation pending in both the Assembly and Senate (S518/A321). I plan to share the data from the pilot program with our state representatives and encourage them to co-sponsor the legislation.
You can help in this effort. First, make sure you stop when you are approaching a stopped school bus. Second, share this information with your family and friends. Finally, help us to push our representatives to not only co-sponsor the legislation but push for its passage. We have set up an online petition that you can sign by visiting: http://www.bayshoreschools.org/forms.cfm?myForm=96
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.