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As schools open this week, back to school safety tips for drivers 

Westbury Middle School students arrive at the Nassau

Westbury Middle School students arrive at the Nassau Community College annex in Garden City for their first day of school Tuesday. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

As schools reopen across Long Island this week, with many students returning to classes Wednesday, motorists face additional traffic headaches. Not only do they need to brace themselves for back-to-school traffic jams but they also need to be mindful of speed limits in school zones and other safety laws, including not passing stopped school buses.

A measure signed into law Aug. 6 by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo allows school districts to install cameras to catch drivers who illegally pass buses that have red stoplights flashing. The law comes after a one-day study in April 2018 that resulted in 850 drivers across New York State being ticketed, with hundreds more ignoring flashing school bus stoplights. Literature provided by the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee said: "An estimated 50,000 motor vehicles illegally pass New York State school buses every day."

Drivers can be fined between $250 and $400 — with a possible jail sentence of up to 30 days — for a first conviction for illegally passing a stopped school bus. Conviction also carries a mandatory five points on your license.

A second conviction within three years carries a fine of $600 to $750, with a possible sentence of up to 180 days in jail, while a third conviction within a three-year period carries a fine of $750 to $1,000, as well as a possible sentence of up to 180 days in jail, according to New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law.

New York is one of four states, along with Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia, where motorists are required to stop for a stopped school bus, red lights flashing, even on a divided highway. By law, drivers are also required to stop 20 feet behind a school bus that has its red stoplights flashing.

"No parent should ever have to worry that their child's bus ride to and from school is anything other than safe and easy," Cuomo said in a statement last month, adding: "By signing this measure into law, we are providing school districts the tools they need to hold reckless drivers accountable and advancing New York State's bold initiatives to keep our schoolchildren safe."

It was not immediately clear Wednesday how many districts on Long Island have already installed school bus cameras.

In Suffolk County, lawmakers Rudy Sunderman (R-Shirley) and DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) are proposing a bill to put dashcams on school buses to catch drivers who don’t yield to them or stop. That bill is scheduled to be presented at Wednesday's meeting of the Suffolk Legislature. A public hearing is set for next month.

Police in both Nassau and Suffolk said they'll have increased school zone patrols starting this week, and the state reminds drivers that school zone speed enforcement can include not only police patrol enforcement but speed cameras. Fines can be hefty and also carry mandatory points.

The auto club AAA Northeast also reminds drivers of safe-driving precautions with its annual School’s Open — Drive Carefully campaign.

The reminders include:

  • Slow down. School zone speed limits are in effect, with school zone speed cameras allowable for operation Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Come to a complete stop. The AAA said research shows more than one-third of all drivers roll through stop signs in school zones and neighborhoods.
  • Look for clues. Crossing guards and school zone speed restriction signs are clear signals, the AAA said, that children are in the area.
  • Keep your eyes open. The AAA reminds drivers to scan areas between parked cars, even to look for shadows, “since children can be quick crossing roadways unexpectedly” and can also emerge “suddenly between parked cars.”

Schoolchildren and their parents are also reminded to review safety tips, including the need to cross at corners, not midblock, to check both directions when crossing the street, to watch for cars and trucks turning right on red, and to avoid using headphones and cellphones while crossing the street.

While the majority of districts open Wednesday, a number of them — Amityville, Baldwin, Bellmore, Bellmore-Merrick, Central Islip, Cold Spring Harbor and Comsewogue among them — opened Tuesday.

Others are scheduled to start Thursday — East Islip, Farmingdale, Massapequa, New Hyde Park-Garden City Park, Northport-East Northport and Patchogue-Medford among them.


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