A proposal to install ignition interlock systems on school buses made after mid-2015 drew both opposition and support Thursday at a State Senate transportation committee hearing at Farmingdale State College.
Drivers must blow into interlock devices, which prevent a vehicle from starting if alcohol is detected.
"Parents entrust their children's lives and safety to school bus drivers; they have every right to expect and demand that the bus driver is sober," said Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick), chairman of the committee.
The hearing follows four incidents on Long Island since October in which drivers were arrested in connection with operating a school bus while intoxicated, including one in which the driver crashed his bus into a Syosset home while he had five young students aboard.
Massapequa's Melissa Escudero, the mother of one of the five, Christian, then 8, was the first to testify. She called for installing the interlock.
"I will not stop until this law is approved," she said, with her son standing by her side. "This law would not only benefit the safety of the children, but pedestrians and citizens, as well."
"Our young schoolchildren are defenseless in the hands of an adult who chooses to drink and drive. Waiting to act until after a bus full of young school children crashed, sending children from their school bus directly to hospitals -- or God forbid -- the morgue, is unacceptable," Ahern read.
But committee member Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said that while he is "eager to get behind the best possible solution . . . I don't know if we should require every single one of them [school bus drivers] to blow into an interlock ignition device."
All testifying bus contractors opposed the idea.
Juanita Samuels, a vice president of TWU Local 252 representing school bus drivers, said the interlock does "not solve the problem of impaired driving, treats good hardworking drivers as criminals . . . and will cost the taxpayers of the state in excess of $60 million per year to maintain."
She, like all of the interlock opponents, offered a variety of alternatives including increased alcohol testing.