The New York Association for Pupil Transportation is urging the state Senate and Assembly to take up bills that would authorize school districts to install video cameras to capture motorists who illegally pass stopped school buses, as well as protect students and school employees from criminal bus trespassors.
NYAPT supports two bills, S5028A and A7350, that would allow for the identification of motorists who violate school bus stop laws and issuance of summons. NYAPT said Section 1174 of the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law currently requires motorists to halt completely when approaching a stopped school bus that has its red lights flashing. That signal indicates the bus is stopping to receive or to discharge children from the bus. The association added that, in many instances, children are required to cross the street and the red lights are intended to protect them as they cross to their school bus.
"When motorists do not stop for those children, they put their lives into immediate danger," read the association's statement. "Similarly, when motorists pass the school bus on the curb side, they are placing children in danger as they board and leave the school bus."
Peter Mannella, executive director of NYAPT, said an estimated 50,000 drivers illegally pass school buses each day.
"That represents 50,000 times daily that a child's life is put in jeopardy," he added. "We need to do all we can to reduce the incidence of illegal passing and to ensure that violators are penalized in accordance with the law."
The legislation would also provide for specific crimes of aggravated assault and criminally negligent homicide to be charged when a motorist who passes a stopped school bus injures or kills another individual, respectively.
NYAPT is also calling for the passage of a bill that would make tresspassing on board a school bus a crime in the first or second degree. This proposal came in response to the mass shooting in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., and the murder of Alabama school bus driver Charles Poland weeks later in Midland, Ala.
"Increasingly, school bus drivers are faced with angry citizens, strangers and even parents who take it upon themselves to board a school bus or to orally or physically accost the school bus driver," said NYAPT President Richard Gallagher. "This is particularly inappropriate when there are children riding the school bus who witness such actions and who are often endangered by those actions. There even have been instances of individuals firing bullets into the sides of a school bus in other states. We cannot and do not condone such behavior on our school buses."
S5122 and companion bill A6385 would make it a crime to board a school bus without authority as second-degree criminal trespass and makes it first-degree criminal trespass when the boarding involves a gun or other weapon. NYAPT said it supports this legislation "as a key step in ensuring the safety of our children and in protecting our school bus drivers from undue danger and potential harm."
"The yellow school bus is an icon of safety for our children and across our society. We need to identify ways in which we can improve safety on our school buses and ways in which we can respond to and prevent such violent incidents," said Mannella. "Certainly one element of the response is to be able to penalize individuals who violate the sanctity and integrity of our yellow school buses. In creating such a crime, we make a statement that the school bus is an integral part of our schools and can and must be protected for the safety of the children."