Through a district-wide pilot program, Bay Shore School District found that between 90 to 100 motorists drive past stopped school buses every single day.
Suffolk County officials unveiled a new school safety plan Tuesday at Bay Shore’s district building that will protect students and deter motorists from illegally passing a stopped bus.
Beginning next year, motorists who illegally pass a stopped school bus will be ticketed. Approximately 6,000 school buses will be equipped with stop-arm enforcement technology, or exterior cameras, through a partnership between the county and BusPatrol America, Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone said.
The initiative is cost-free to taxpayers and school districts. Installation and maintenance of the stop-arm cameras will be paid for by BusPatrol, Bellone said.
“I’m the father of three young children. The safety of my kids is, like every other parent, the most important thing in my life,” Bellone said. “The safety of all children is the most important thing to me… This is not just about making sure they’re safe inside this school building. It’s about making sure they’re safe when they get off that bus.”
Bay Shore school superintendent Joseph Bond said the district has been at the forefront of the cameras for several years.
The Suffolk County Legislature approved creating a program in 2019 after Bay Shore, and nearby Longwood School District, found that cars illegally passed stopped buses multiple times a day. Gov. Andrew Cuomo authorized stop-arm monitoring statewide last year.
Earlier in his teaching career, Bond said he witnessed the effects of reckless driving firsthand: A student was struck by a vehicle and he needed to be hospitalized for several months.
“Seeing a child in that situation because of the selfishness of a driver who could not be bothered to stop is something that stays with you,” Bond said. He said the new program will “greatly improve the way we protect our children.”
Throughout his 35-year tenure, Suffolk County chief of department Stuart Cameron said he’s been involved in traffic safety issues. He said bus passing is one of the “most egregious” violations of NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law that the Department sees.
“The penalties are very severe, and it makes sense,” he said. “Children, especially younger children, believe that adults will obey the rules… They run across the street believing that, and then imperil themselves when someone does not obey.”
Under NYS School Bus Passing Law in Suffolk County, it is illegal to pass a stopped school bus. Bellone said there are too many instances where people will disregard the state law.
Bay Shore Middle School Parent-Teacher Association president Kerri Vargas said law enforcement cannot be everywhere, and this legislation will provide “an additional layer of safety for our children and, at the same time, hold these drivers accountable.”
According to a press release, each bus will be equipped with cameras that function in various weather conditions and have 4G LTE connectivity. Cameras will operate when a bus is stopped and red lights are flashing. When a violation occurs, the technology photographs the vehicle’s license plate and a ticket is mailed to the driver.
A new School Bus Safety Advisory Committee, which will determine when the program will be implemented, will also be formed this year. The group includes representatives from Suffolk PTA, Suffolk County PBA, NYAPT members and more.