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Deal reached on school bus cameras to snag passing drivers

Anoop Keswani, a driver in the East Meadow

Anoop Keswani, a driver in the East Meadow school district, seen in March, said a driver illegally passes his stopped school bus about once a week. Credit: Howard Simmons

ALBANY — School buses could be equipped with cameras to snag drivers who illegally pass buses that are stopped while unloading or loading students, under a deal state legislators reached on Tuesday.

Lawmakers said the bill, likely to be approved next week, would allow municipalities and school districts to “opt in” to the program. Cameras could be placed on the “stop” sign arm that a bus swings out upon slowing to a halt, or another spot on the bus. Videos of offending drivers would be sent to law enforcement.

The fine for a first offense would be $250, according to State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy (D-Buffalo), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. School districts would share the fines with the manufacturer until the camera equipment is paid for, then would pocket any excess fines. The ticket would not carry any “points” on a driver’s license, he said. As with “red light” cameras, the ticket would be issued to the owner of the vehicle.

“It ensures that our children will be protected from drivers who totally disregard the law, ignore the stop signs, ignore the flashing lights, ignore the crossing arm and just drive through it,” Kennedy said. He said people ignore bus stop signs because of a lack of enforcement — tickets could be issued only if a police officer witnessed an offense.

“But that changes with this legislation,” Kennedy said, adding that about 15 other states already have a similar type of program.

Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman William B. Magnarelli (D-Syracuse) confirmed the houses have reached a deal and plan to vote on the bill as early as next week. In a memo filed with the bill, Magnarelli said estimates on the number of drivers ignoring stop signs and passing buses “continues to be alarming.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has backed the proposal in the past, said he will sign it into law after the Legislature acts.

“I commend the Legislature for reaching an agreement on this critical issue and I look forward to seeing it passed and to signing it into law,” the governor said in a statement.

Kennedy said the law would be effective within 30 days of the governor’s signature. There would be a lag period, however, before the first cameras appear because municipalities and schools would need time to decide on participation and then to install the cameras.

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