Like most elected officials, my friend and colleague, Legis. Tom Muratore,
had a few issues that were especially close to his heart. School bus safety
was one of them. He was responsible for having April 27 declared as “Operation Safe Stop Day” in Suffolk County to increase awareness of the dangers associated with passing a school bus illegally, and he established an annual school bus safety poster contest for elementary school children. In a heartbreaking loss for the Suffolk County Legislature, Tom passed away last
week, but his advocacy for bus safety lives on.
Back-to-school season is here, and I want to remind everyone of the law when it comes to school buses on the road. Motorists must come to a full stop when approaching a school bus that is stopped with its red lights flashing and stop arm extended. It does not matter whether you are approaching the bus from the front or are behind it – you must stop, even if you are across a divided highway or on school grounds. Flashing lights mean the bus is picking up or dropping off students, who frequently must cross the street to reach their destination.
And yet, an estimated 50,000 cars illegally pass school buses every day in
New York, according to the New York Association for Pupil Transportation.
I watched it happen last week when I was putting my children on the bus. As
a parent, I can attest to how horrifying it is to see someone’s reckless behavior
put your child’s life at risk. School buses transport more than 2.3 million children each day. Over the course of an average school year, children board or exit a school bus approximately 1.65 billion times. That’s more than a billion accidents waiting to happen if motorists ignore the law rather than waiting for the all clear.
To stop drivers from engaging in this dangerous behavior, some school buses
in Suffolk County will soon be fitted with cameras. If a motorist is captured
on camera illegally passing a school bus, the car’s registered owner will receive an automatic ticket. The fines will be $250 for the first offense, $275 for a second offense within 18 months, and $300 for any subsequent offenses within 18 months.
This school bus photo violation monitoring initiative was made possible through state legislation allowing counties to implement the program
with school districts that choose to participate. So far, 22 of the 72 school
districts in Suffolk County have signed on and 18 others are expected to opt in
this month. The rest of the school districts are still reviewing the program,
but we expect them to be on board as well. Districts could be fully outfitted
as early as next year.
Let us all take the baton from the late Tom Muratore to help protect our most cherished resource – our children. Our message is simple: Protect our children. Stop for stopped school buses.