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A bill to equip school buses throughout Westchester County with stop arm cameras has been introduced to the Board of Legislators, which would enable fines to be levied against motorists caught on video passing stopped busess.
County Executive George Latimer and the Board of Legislators issued statements Monday afternoon on the measure that would authorize the county to enforce penalties on violators.
The state vehicle and traffic law, “imposes monetary liability for failure of a motor vehicle operator to comply with school bus red visual signals and stop arm.”
“The safety of our school children is paramount to all of us in government,” Latimer said as part of his statement. “This simple legislation satisfies the requirement by New York State Law to authorize these cameras and penalties in Westchester County.”
Monetary penalties that have been proposed are $250 for a first violation; $275 for a second violation within 18 months of the first one; and $300 for a third and each subsequent violation within that 18-month period.
An additional $25 penalty would be tacked on for each violation for failure to respond to a notice of liability within the prescribed time period.
Violations would not be considered on an operator’s driving record or count against the driver’s insurance record.
The issue was brought to the forefront after the Hendrick Hudson and Somers school districts agreed with BusPatrol, one of the companies in New York State that installs the stop arm cameras to be part of what is considered a pilot program. From the start of the current school year through the end of October, the cameras caught an alarming 367 violations of drivers passing stopped school buses when discharging or picking up students in Hendrick Hudson and 280 in Somers.
But since Westchester had not passed legislation, municipalities were unable to levy fines against the offenders.
Hendrick Hudson school officials, who were the most aggressive in advocating for the legislation, expressed gratitude that the county is likely to approve the legislation, making schoolchildren safer throughout Westchester. Board of Education member Jeremy Basso thanked members of the school community for supporting the district’s efforts.
“We look forward to George Latimer’s signature and we’re grateful that we can have some common-sense legislation passed that benefits everybody, but specifically the children in our community,” Basso said. “I don’t know who loses.”
Basso said he spoke with County Legislator Colin Smith (D-Peekskill) who indicated that the legislation could be approved as soon as the end of the month, but should be in place for the start of the 2023-24 school year.
According to the legislation, the county, which would cover any costs, would be authorized to enter into agreements with school districts for the installation, maintenance and use of school bus photo violation monitoring systems.
Each district within Westchester that would like to participate in the program must enter into an agreement with the county. Once a school district has that agreement, cameras would be installed on all buses that serve the district, whether those vehicles are operated by the school system or are privately owned.
Participation in the program is voluntary.
“Installing cameras on school buses stop signs is a practical, simple way to protect our children’s safety,” said Board of Legislators Chair Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining). “Let’s make the roads safer for everyone, starting with our most vulnerable passengers.”
Jason Elan, the head of external affairs for BusPatrol, which has contracts with Suffolk, Putnam and Rockland counties in the metropolitan region, said the company operates with no outlay by the districts or the municipalities for equipment installation. Once the cameras are operational, they split the fines collected with each municipality, generating revenue and costing the taxpayers nothing, he said.
However, the real value is in the reduction in violations, which makes it safer for children. In the first year of the program in Suffolk, incidents fell by about 30 percent, he said.
“We do see a significant drop-off in the number of violations within program jurisdictions the first year and that tends to level out,” Elan said.
However, the company also provides a sustained awareness campaign to the public throughout the year educating motorists on the law and their responsibilities.
Basso said having the county respond positively restores many residents’ faith in local government.
“It’s reassuring to see things like this kind of work out in the right way,” he said. “It’s nice to see local government come together and benefit children.”
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/