Two New York school transportation associations are partnering with law enforcement on Thursday to raise awareness about the dangers of illegally passing stopped school buses by holding events statewide as part of Operation Safe Stop.
The New York Association for Pupil Transportation (NYAPT) and the New York School Bus Contractors Association (NYSBCA), as well as local and state law enforcement and community leaders, are taking part in public education efforts for the event, now in its 25th year. Law enforcement officers are monitoring traffic around school buses for motorists who illegally pass those buses. Meanwhile, school bus contractors are working with officers to identify bus stops where drivers frequently illegally pass school buses.
Additionally, the NYAPT is holding a media event to educate the public on the dangers of stop-arm running, and Suffolk Transportation Service is hosting an event with speakers that include school bus safety experts, law enforcement officers, and county and state representatives.
“NYAPT joins with all who care about the safety of our children to eliminate illegal passing in New York state," said Lori Ann Savino, president of NYAPT and director of transportation for Jericho (N.Y.) School District. "We annually observe Operation Safe Stop day simply because illegal passing places our children at risk whenever they board or leave their school bus.”
“We thank the dozens of state and local police agencies and sheriff patrols who are working in cooperation with school districts and school bus operators all across the state today to protect our children,” said Ted Nugent, NYAPT Operation Safe Stop chair and director of transportation services at Coxsackie-Athens Central School District.
Peter Mannella, NYAPT’s executive director, noted that bus drivers have reported that their buses have been illegally passed by motorists an average of 26,398 times daily — including 2,047 right-side passes — during the 2017-18 school year.
“To keep our school children safe and prevent a potential tragedy, drivers must stop when they see those red lights flashing and the stop sign out on a yellow school bus,” said Bree Allen, president of the NYSBCA. “Unfortunately, with estimates showing as many as 40,000 drivers in New York illegally passing a stopped school bus every day school is in session, it is clear more needs to be done to ensure maximum student safety.”
The NYSBCA is also calling on the state Legislature to pass bills that would crack down on drivers who illegally pass a school bus and would include school bus safety in the state’s pre-license driver education course.
Legislation sponsored by Sen. Rich Funke and Assemblymember Ken Zebrowski (S1023/A1207) would increase the range of fines for illegally passing a stopped school bus to a minimum of $400 and a maximum of $1,500, depending on the number of convictions. The legislation also requires that a person who injures someone while passing a school bus be charged with aggravated vehicular assault, and if a person is killed in the incident, the legislation requires a charge of criminally negligent homicide.
Complementary legislation sponsored by Sen. John Bonacic and Assemblymember Aileen Gunther (S1064/A719) adds the penalty of a 60-day suspension of a driver's license when he or she is convicted of illegally passing a stopped school bus two or more times within a 10-year period.
Additional legislation, sponsored by Sen. Elaine Phillips and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (S5974/A8565), would add a school bus safety component to the pre-licensing driver education course and written test for all applicants seeking to obtain a New York state driver’s license. The legislation would also require the written test for a driver’s license to include at least one question about school bus safety.
All three bills unanimously passed in the state Senate and have been referred to the New York State Assembly Transportation Committee.
Meanwhile, the NYAPT has called for legislation that would authorize stop-arm camera use to enforce state law and catch motorists who illegally pass stopped school buses.