EducationThe Northern Westchester Examiner

District Ready to Launch Campaign for Stop Arm Cameras on School Buses

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A local school district is leading a campaign to get Westchester County to approve a bill that would permit drivers who pass stopped school buses to be ticketed through the use of stop arm cameras.

The Hendrick Hudson School District is mobilizing to advocate for the legislation after it engaged in a pilot program with the safety technology company BusPatrol that revealed 367 vehicles illegally passed district buses while discharging or picking up students during September and October.

“I was just blown away that that is actually what goes on, and I had no idea that there was such a huge problem, so it was really, really shocking and really scary,” said Alexis Bernard, president of the Hendrick Hudson Board of Education.

During a nearly identical time period, the Somers School District, the other school system that participated in the pilot program with BusPatrol, reported that cameras captured 280 violators, suggesting problem drivers passing school buses is a widespread problem.

Board of Education member Jeremy Basso said help from county officials is needed because while New York State approved legislation allowing the cameras to be affixed to the stop arms that protrude from buses when the driver opens the door, it requires each county pass its own resolution to make it enforceable. Without it, the only way a violator can be ticketed is if the offense is observed by an officer, he said.

Basso explained the technology is the rough equivalent of red-light cameras that are used in ticketing drivers who run red lights. He is hopeful there will be no major hurdles with county officials.

“We want the county to recognize that this is a viable program because it becomes a revenue-neutral if not a revenue-positive program,” Basso said. “Hopefully, it becomes a zero-revenue program, and people just respect the school bus law and child safety.”

With close to 400 vehicles passing stopped school buses from Sept. 1 to Oct. 28, that translates to an average of about 10 violations every school day, Basso said. Considering Hendrick Hudson has about 2,000 students, which isn’t a large district, and there are now fewer bus stops than before, that is an alarming number, he said.

While initial layout costs may have been a concern for some districts, in November BusPatrol Executive Vice President Steven Randazzo told The Examiner there is no cost to a district that puts their cameras on their fleet. The company negotiates with each municipality an acceptable percentage of levied fines for BusPatrol to keep, he said.

When contacted last week, Board of Legislators Chair Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining) said that there have been preliminary discussions on the issue but there was nothing more to report.

Bernard said the first substantive step the district will take is to invite BusPatrol representatives to make a presentation at a February board meeting, which will include strategies to help sway elected officials.

“Hopefully, from there they can tell us how we can better advocate because our school district definitely takes child safety seriously and we want to do everything we can to try and eliminate this reckless behavior, especially within our small community,” Bernard said.

Contacting county legislators will also be undertaken, Basso said.

Mary McNamara, region director of the Westchester-East Putnam Region PTA, said the dilemma of drivers illegally passing stopped buses is a widespread issue. In her home community of Dobbs Ferry, five children were hit by cars in one school year several years ago. She has also heard of drivers going onto the sidewalk to get around crossing guards helping children navigate the streets.

Westchester remains the only county in the Hudson Valley to have not passed the legislation, which needs to be rectified, McNamara said. In addition, Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island have also authorized the use of stop arm cameras for enforcement of violators.

This issue is just as important as the other safety matters that districts face today, she said.

“We have so many areas where we have to worry about student safety, this seems like, I think, the low-hanging fruit where, of course, you would do this because it’s a reason by which to reduce the accidents because as people are ticketed for this behavior, it would similarly reduce it,” McNamara said.

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