Don’t wait for tragedy to approve school bus safety cameras

Photo Credit: Todd Maisel

Across New York City,  parents of the 150,000 children who ride a school bus on any given day have watched the same nerve-racking scene play out time after time — cars dangerously and illegally passing buses as children get on and off.

A recent one-day study by the New York State Association of School Pupil Transportation estimated that 30,252 drivers statewide illegally passed a school bus that day. Of those, 280 drivers passed on the passenger side of the bus where students board and exit.

As a parent, that frightens me.

Thankfully, steps are being taken to improve our children’s safety. This January, the City Council passed laws I authored as part of the School Transportation Oversight Package (STOP) to require GPS systems on school buses to allow parents and schools the ability to monitor children’s bus trips every day using an app.

That is a big first step. But without state action, we will be left with a major gap in our children’s safety. Kids getting on and off the school bus are routinely put in danger as impatient motorists zip around the blinking red STOP sign that pops out from the side of the bus. Just recently, news reports showed a motorist in Borough Park driving on to the sidewalk in order to get around a stopped school bus. Fortunately none of the kids walking outside  was hurt or killed. 

And while it is already illegal to pass a stopped school bus, drivers can only be punished when a police officer physically witnesses it happening. Short of giving each bus a police escort, we are unlikely to catch and deter drivers who put our children at risk.

Legislation under consideration by the state would enable cities to equip buses with technology that records illegal passings and allows electronically issued fines to drivers who would place children at risk. The Assembly has unanimously passed a bill to authorize stop-arm cameras on school buses. And Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is also a supporter.

Now, it’s up to the State Senate to take action and reach a deal on a final bill with the Assembly that can go to Gov. Cuomo to be signed into law. 

The technology is simple, it incorporates cameras, GPS, and a panic button for emergency notifications. It also allows law enforcement officers to log onto the system through the internet to review the evidence and issue a citation when appropriate.

But as a city, we can’t use this basic technology to keep schoolchildren safe without state approval, which means state lawmakers will need to prioritize the stop-arm camera legislation before ending their legislative session in June.

Every day without action is another day our children are at risk. We don’t need to wait for a tragedy to learn our lesson.

The state and the city have collaborated to authorize red-light and speed cameras which have made our crosswalks safer. We must now use cameras and fines that have proved to deter future dangerous behavior to protect young schoolchildren boarding the bus from illegally passing cars.

Ben Kallos is a Democratic City Council member who represents the Upper East Side.