School Bus Camera Safety Act looks to change the rules of the road

A bill is in the works in Albany that would allow school districts to use cameras on school buses and issue tickets to drivers who violate the law.

State Senator Catharine Young (R,C,I-Olean), introduced the legislation. Supporters say it would help improve safety for children who ride school buses.

The School Bus Camera Safety Act would allow school districts and school bus contractors to install cameras on their school buses that would turn on once the stop arm of the bus is extended when the bus comes to a stop to pick up or let off students. The camera would capture images of the car and license plate and those images would be used to issue a ticket to the registered owner of the car. Currently, a ticket can only be issued by a police officer who witnesses the violation.

"The number of school buses that are passed illegally each day is startling and something must be done to protect innocent children who are traveling to and from school. Far too often these drivers are never caught for committing such a dangerous violation and students are continually put in harm's way. This bill would bring these drivers to justice and prevent them from getting away with such egregious crimes," said Senator Young.

At least eight other states including Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Iowa, Virginia, Connecticut and Washington, have enacted similar legislation in response to a growing national concern over illegal passing or 'stop arm violations.

The New York Association for Pupil Transportation (NYAPT) supports the legislation. For years, it has advocated for stricter laws regarding illegal passing of school buses and the installation of cameras on school buses. In 2007, NYAPT conducted demonstration programs using digital license plate readers on school buses in several districts including Syracuse and Brewerton. In the Syracuse pilot project, the camera recorded illegal passes 1.6 times per day for the bus involved in the project.

The proposed legislation includes the following provisions:

* Retains the current fine structure for violations witnessed by a police officer;

* Establishes a minimum fine of between $250-$400 with no points for a first violation when the violation is based on the camera-based evidence, with increasing penalties for repeat offenses;

* Requires suspension of the license of a motorist who has been convicted multiple times;

* Makes it a crime of aggravated assault when a motorist injures another individual as a result of illegally passing a stopped school bus;

* Makes it a crime of criminally negligent homicide, a class E felony, when a motorist takes the life of another individual as a result of illegally passing a stopped school bus and assault in the 3rd degree, also a class E felony, if injury to another person is caused;

* Establishes a School Bus Safety Education Program fund derived from fines collected from violations