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School, transportation administrators back bus camera bill

January 20, 2018 12:25 AM

State lawmakers could soon give schools new weapons to stop drivers from illegally passing stopped school buses. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed new state budget includes a provision to raise fines for passing a stopped school bus and to let school systems install “stop arm” cameras on school buses.  The cameras would start recording when a bus stops and its red lights begin flashing.  

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By some estimates, cars illegally pass stopped school buses 50,000 times a day in New York State.  

“When people pass the reds, it’s just a split second away from taking a child’s life,” said Kathleen Callon, Transportation Director for the East Irondequoit school system.  

In that district, she explained, drivers routinely illegally pass school buses 20 to 25 times every morning and frequently are not held accountable.    

“If we are able to get information including a description of the vehicle, make, model, brief description of the driver and a license plate number, we can turn it into the local police and the state police,” Callon said.  “But quite often we are not able to get enough information for them to track down the vehicle owner.” 

The provision in the budget draft would allow school systems to install the stop arm cameras and authorize police to use the images they gather to fine vehicle owners for violations, a prospect that enthuses Callon.  

“I think if people start getting ticketed, it’s going to make an impact,” she said.  

That component of the proposal also addressed a concern of both lawmakers and school leaders, the cost of the camera systems.   55th District State Senator Rich Funke declared his desire for tougher fines and pointed to his own past bills to increase penalties which passed in the state Senate but never succeeded in the Assembly.  

Funke further gave his qualified support to the stop arm cameras.  

“I also support allowing school districts to use cameras to hold violators accountable,” he said in a written statement.  “But funding should be a part of this authorization.”      

Under the budget plan proposal, at least 20% of the revenue from fines generated would be allocated to school systems to help defray the costs of installing the cameras.
“Technology is expensive,” said Callon.  “It’s great for us to be able to do that and get that information and then hopefully get results so, if were able to start offsetting some of the cost by revenues coming in. I think it’s really a win.”

The New York School Bus Contractors Association offered its own support for higher fines for passing school buses but cautioned that implementation would be important in any system that uses cameras to catch and penalize drivers, pointing to numerous challenges to red light cameras around the state.   Still both the Bus Contractors Association and the New York Association for Pupil Transportation gave their support to the cameras and fines proposal.

Peter Mannella, Executive Director of the Association for Pupil Transportation also predicted good odds for the plan, tucked as it is into the state budget proposal.  

“That’s the first time it’s ever happened,” he said.  “I think it gains a lot more support, or at least less opposition because it’s going to be part of that overall package in the budget. Someone’s going to have to be very focused to go in and say ‘let’s take that out.’”

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Charles Molineaux

Copyright 2018 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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