Saturday, November 07, 2009

More Stop Arm Cameras in NY - NYAPT Seeking to Change Enforcement Laws.

BETHLEHEM, N.Y. -- The results of a pilot program that used cameras on school buses to record how many drivers illegally passed stopped school buses were released on Thursday.

In the Bethlehem Central School District, a camera mounted on a single bus documented 20 illegal passes during a 40-day period that began in April.

"People don't pay attention, and that's part of the problem," says Peter Mannella of the New York Association for Pupil Transportation. "Despite the fact that we have all these fines and we've called attention to this, people continue to do it."

NYAPT installed cameras on buses in Bethlehem, as well as the Canandaigua City School District and the Brewster Central School District, which recorded 22 and 4 illegal passes, respectively. The project was supported by a grant from the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee and the National Highway Traffic Safety Committee. Organizers say the aim was to help combat the problem of illegal passing of school buses.

It's estimated that school buses are passed illegally 50,000 times everyday statewide, putting the safety of millions of children in jeopardy.

Albany County is considered the worst area in the state for illegal passes, outside of New York City. Police wrote 900 tickets between 2005 and 2008.

"People just don't get it," Mannella says. "We have a woman on film who literally said, 'I didn't hit anybody. I don't see what the big deal is.'"

The camera is similar to police cameras that are used to read license plates. It's mounted to the outside of the bus just above the driver's side window. As soon as the driver activates the flashing red stop lights, it activates the camera. If a driver tries to pass the bus either from the front or the rear, the camera records digital pictures onto a laptop mounted inside the bus. At the end of the day, officials can download that data to give to authorities.

"I thought it was an excellent idea," says Chuck Emery, who's been driving school buses for 19 years. He says on average, someone tries to illegally drive around his stopped school bus everyday as he's loading and unloading children.

"You see the last student getting on the bus," he says, "and people start creeping toward the bus and thinking it's safe to go now. It's not."

NYAPT says during the pilot program, no tickets were issued based on the school bus camera recordings. That's because current New York law prohibits police from issuing illegal passing tickets based on cameras. Instead, drivers are required to sign affidavits as to the make and model of car, license plate number, and driver description. NYAPT says it's working with lawmakers to change the law, and it hopes that all school buses one day will be outfitted with the camera equipment.

Section 1174 of the State's Vehicle and Traffic law requires all vehicles to stop for a school bus that is stopped and has its red flashing lights engaged. Violators face stiff penalties that include fines, driver's license points, and possible time in jail.

"When those red lights come on, stop!" said New York DMV Commissioner David Swarts. "Don't proceed. The cargo on that bus is very, very important to us."