On Tuesday, New York lawmakers are reviewing legislation that, if passed, will make a crime of illegal boarding of a bus, increase penalties for illegal passing of a stopped school bus and will allow cameras to be installed on school buses.

Legislation reported by the Senate, bill S2138A, and its Assembly companion, A5659A, will create a crime of criminal trespass in the second degree for individuals who board or remain on a school bus without the authority of or against the direction of the school bus driver.

The legislation also covers actions by motorists to impede or delay the progress of the school bus. Another section of the bill creates the crime of criminal trespass in the first degree for instances when the offending individual is in possession of a weapon.

This legislation comes at a time when a recent survey of New York Association for Pupil Transportation (NYAPT) members found:

•    70% of members have experienced at least one incident of an individual boarding a school bus and verbally accosting the school bus driver.
•    39% of members have had a motorist pull their car in front of the school bus to impede its progress.
•    45% of members have had individuals board the school bus and make physical threats against the school bus driver.

NYAPT is now turning its attention to advancing the companion bill.

“We are confident that there is significant support for this legislation in both houses, and we are calling for enactment before our Assembly and Senate bring this session to a close,” said Peter Mannella, NYAPT’s executive director.

Also, a state Senate committee reported to the full Senate legislation that would allow cameras to be installed on school buses to facilitate the identification of motorists who illegally pass school buses that are stopped with their red lights flashing.

Mannella noted that recent surveys supported the association’s estimates that more than 50,000 motorists pass stopped school buses illegally each day of the school year.

“Our survey sample of 2,600 bus drivers indicated that over 54,300 motorists passed school buses on May 12,” he said. “A startling result from that survey was that there were nearly 1,600 ‘passenger-side’ incidents involving motorists who passed the school bus on the passenger side where children are boarding or disembarking from the bus and are in particular danger.”

“It is important that we allow these cameras to be on our school buses to allow our drivers to drive rather than have to record details about the cars that pass them,” said David Adam, president of NYAPT. “Their job is to keep our children safe; it is not their job to be traffic law enforcers.”

NYAPT will now turn its efforts to ensuring that the legislation is also advanced in the Assembly, where a bill has been sponsored by Assemblyman William Magnarelli.

Meanwhile, the New York School Bus Contractors Association is calling for the passage of state Sen. Rich Funke’s bill to increase fines and criminal penalties for drivers who illegally pass a stopped school bus, along with continued support for state Sen. John Bonacic’s bill to impose a 60-day suspension of a motorist’s driver’s license after they are convicted of passing a stopped school bus two or more times within a 10-year period.  

This follows reports that more than 1,000 tickets were issued to drivers who illegally passed stopped school buses during Operation Safe Stop on April 16.   

“Once again, the New York School Bus Contractors Association proudly took part in this year’s annual Operation Safe Stop, but more needs to be done to help keep our children safe,” said Robert Pape, president of the association. “When over 1,000 tickets are issued in one day, during an announced and highly publicized student safety initiative, it’s clear that the penalties for drivers who put our children at risk do not go far enough, and that is why we are supporting legislation sponsored by Sen. Funke and Sen. Bonacic.”

Drivers ticketed for a first offense of school bus passing currently face up to a $400 fine, a five-point penalty on their driver’s license, and up to 30 days in jail.

Funke’s bill, S2978, increases the range of fines for passing a school bus for the first time from a minimum of $250 and a maximum of $400 to a minimum of $400 and a maximum of $750. For a second offense, the fines would increase from a minimum of $600 and a maximum of $750 to a minimum of $950 and a maximum of $1,150. For a third violation within a three-year period, the fines would rise from a minimum of $750 and a maximum of $1,000 to a minimum of $1,150 and a maximum of $1,500.

Funke’s bill would also require that a person who injures someone while passing a school bus be charged with aggravated vehicular assault. If a person is killed in the incident, the bill requires a charge of criminally negligent homicide.  

Bonacic’s bill, S1634, provides for a 60-day suspension of a motorist's driver’s license when the holder is convicted two or more times of passing a stopped school bus within a period of 10 years. Current law provides the same penalty to a motorist convicted two or more times of speeding in a construction zone; however, passing a stopped school bus two or more times does not carry the same penalty. This legislation would remedy that inconsistency, officials said.

Both bills have been passed by the New York Senate and are currently sitting in the New York Assembly Transportation Committee.

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