PORT JERVIS, N.Y. — The New York School Bus Contractors Association (NYSBCA) hosted an event here on Thursday with local and state officials and lawmakers to draw awareness to the importance of stopping when motorists see a stopped school bus with its red lights flashing.
Operation Safe Stop Day, an initiative of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Traffic Safety Committee, is a statewide education and enforcement campaign targeting motorists who put children in harm’s way by illegally passing stopped school buses. According to the committee, an estimated 50,000 motorists in New York illegally pass stopped school buses every day school is in session.
The Operation Safe Stop Day event was held at the Anna S. Kuhl Elementary School with school and law enforcement officials, as well as President of the New York State Bus Distributors Association Rick Reichenbach, and New York Association for Pupil Transportation local chapter members.
“Our school bus drivers witness drivers putting children in harm’s way every day by illegally passing a stopped school bus,” said NYSBCA President Mike Martucci. “Drivers need to know that they must stop when they see the flashing red lights on a school bus.”
The NYSBCA is also using the occasion to again call for the passage of legislation sponsored by state Sen. John Bonacic and state Sen. Rich Funke to increase the penalties on drivers convicted of illegally passing a stopped school bus.
Although New York motorists ticketed for a first offense face up to 30 days in jail, as much as a $400 fine, and a five-point penalty on their driver’s license, it is clear the current penalties do not go far enough to act as a deterrent, according to NYSBCA officials.
Bonacic’s legislation, S.1634, calls for the additional penalty of a 60-day suspension of a person’s driver’s license when that person is convicted of illegally passing a stopped school bus two or more times within a 10-year period. S.1634 has been approved unanimously by the state Senate in the past but has not moved in the Assembly in recent years.
“I’m proud to have sponsored legislation in the past that would increase penalties for those passing a stopped school bus, and I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Legislature to ensure our drivers, as well as our students, are safe when they are going to and from school,” Bonacic said.
Funke’s legislation, S.2978, would increase the range of fines for illegally passing a stopped school bus from a minimum of $400 to 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. Funke’s bill has also been approved by the state Senate in the past but failed to move in the Assembly.
“Operation Safe Stop is an important tool to remind drivers that the law is clear: when you see a school bus’ red flashing lights, you must stop, no matter where the bus is," Funke said. "Together with legislation I’ve proposed to crack down on drivers who pass a stopped bus, this effort will go a long way to prevent avoidable tragedies in our area.”
“Drivers need to know that when the red lights are flashing on a school bus, they must stop, and that illegally passing a school bus could threaten the safety of a child," Reichenbach said. "We are proud to stand with the New York School Bus Contractors Association and the governor’s Traffic Safety Committee to support Operation Safe Stop.”