The number is staggering: 150,000 motor vehicles illegally pass school buses in New York State EVERY YEAR, according to state law enforcement agencies’ estimates. That’s 150,000 drivers in 180 school days a year!
To address that stunning statistic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed some important changes to make our streets and roads safer for schoolchildren getting on and off buses at all times of the day. And with a Democratic-controlled Legislature behind him, Cuomo’s proposal has a good chance of becoming law.
In his recent 2020 budget proposal, which is supposed to be approved by the Legislature by April 1, Cuomo called for authorizing school districts to install cameras in the stop-sign arms on buses to capture photos of vehicles and drivers that break the law.
He also wants to increase the fine for passing a stopped school bus, and here’s what could be the biggest change for New York State families and schools:
Cuomo wants to require all students to wear seat belts on school buses.
New York State’s school bus seat belt law requires all school buses manufactured after July 1, 1987, to be equipped with seat belts BUT the state does not currently mandate seat belt use on school buses, but rather, leaves the a decision to each school district.
Many of the local districts don’t require student seat belt use, according to transportation policies on their district websites.
The proposal, which has a good chance of becoming law, could lead to some short-term headaches for school districts and their bus drivers as they get students in the habit of buckling up.
“The safety of New York’s schoolchildren is our top priority and reckless drivers who put our kids in danger must be held accountable,” Gov. Cuomo said in announcing the proposal. “Motorists have a responsibility to pay attention and abide by the law, especially when driving in the vicinity of school buses, and these measures will ensure students make it to and from school safely and help prevent needless tragedies.”
State Senator Tom O’Mara of the Southern Tier supports Cuomo’s proposal.
“The State Legislature has taken many actions to strengthen school bus safety and to continually try to encourage, enhance and enforce motorist safety,” he said in a prepared statement. “I believe it should be a fundamental priority and responsibility. The Governor has thrown his support behind commonsense actions this session, including the installation of stop-arm cameras on school buses, which the Senate unanimously approved last year. This action can make a difference and I strongly support its inclusion in this year’s budget.”
In New York, Cuomo said, 1.5 million students ride school buses to and from school every year.
The penalties in New York State and Pennsylvania for passing a stopped school bus are stiff and will likely get tougher soon in New York.
According to New York State’s Operation Safe Stop, the penalties for passing a stopped school bus now are:
First conviction, fines from $250 to $400 and up to 30 days in jail.
Second conviction, $600 to $750 in fines and up to 180 days in jail.
Third conviction, $750 to $1,000 in fines and up to 180 days in jail.
In Pennsylvania, drivers convicted could face a $250 fine and a possible 60-day suspension of their license.
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