Anyone who has ever come upon a stopped school bus picking up or delivering students can’t miss the flashing lights and extended red STOP signs. It looks like a carnival ride.

Yet, in New York state, it’s estimated that more than 50,000 vehicles pass stopped school buses illegally every day, putting children’s lives and safety at risk.

Wisely, Oneida County has taken action that will hopefully make drivers more aware of the problem. In the future, if you’re going to blow by a bus, smile. You may be on camera. And that will hit you where it hurts — in the wallet.

Last September, state lawmakers passed a measure that allows municipalities to create laws for programs to catch people passing stopped school buses via stop-arm cameras. As a result, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. put $100,000 in his budget to look into the process, while the Oneida County attorney drafted the proposed local law.

On Wednesday, the county Board of Legislators approved a bill that will allow the county to issue a request for proposals for a vendor to install and operate camera systems on school buses to record delinquent motorists who pass stopped buses. The photos will then be sent to the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office, where a deputy will have the option to send the lawbreaker a citation that is equivalent to a parking ticket.

Oneida County Sheriff Rob Maciol estimated that there are about 1,500 such violations every day in Oneida County. And according to statistics from the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, on a single day during the 2017-18 school year, 108,623 school bus drivers across the country reported that 83,944 vehicles passed their buses illegally, That’s more than 15 million violations by motorists on U.S. roads in a typical 180-day school year.

Googled video footage of vehicles buzzing by stopped school buses is horrifying. Motorists breaking the law often use the same excuse: they didn’t see the bus.

If you can’t see a big yellow vehicle stopped in the middle of the road with extended motorized STOP signs and flashing red lights, get your eyes checked. You probably shouldn’t be driving.

The cameras will cost participating schools nothing, and Picente encourages all districts to participate in the program. He said the vendor chosen will provide and install the cameras in exchange for a percentage of the fines and penalties collected.

Those fines will be significant. Under the proposed law, the first offense is $250, a second offense within 18 months costs $275 and a third or subsequent violation costs $300. A $25 penalty also will be assessed for failing to respond within 37 days, which could also affect vehicle registration.

One caveat: The county legislation does not apply to the Utica school district. Picente explained that’s because the county can only apply the law to districts that overlap municipalities. For instance, the Whitesboro school district includes various townships within its borders; Rome goes into Western and Lee, etc. The Utica district is self-contained, and the Common Council would need to pass its own law to enact a bus camera program.

Picente says Utica, too, could likely do it at no cost to the district by working out a similar arrangement with a vendor to receive a percentage of the fines in exchange for providing bus cameras.

It should. Many of the passed-bus violations occur in the city.

This is a sound investment. If it makes just one motorist think twice and stop and saves just one child’s life, it’s money well spent. Kudos to Oneida County officials for getting out in front on this. Hopefully, Utica will soon follow.



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