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NY Senate OKs school bus cameras to catch drivers passing illegally

Anoop Keswani, a driver in the East Meadow

Anoop Keswani, a driver in the East Meadow School District, says about once a week a driver illegally passes his stopped school bus. Credit: Howard Simmons

ALBANY — The State Senate on Wednesday gave final passage to a bill that would require school buses to be equipped with cameras to catch drivers who illegally pass buses that are stopped while loading or unloading students.

The bill was among a package of safety measures that passed the Senate. Others would require charter buses to use commercial GPS to avoid parkways with low overpasses and mandate any operator of a motorboat to take a boating safety course.

Only the school bus camera bill has passed the state Assembly.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has indicated he will sign the school bus camera bill into law, which would make it effective before the start of the school year in September.

Municipalities and school districts would have to “opt in” to the program.

Cameras could be placed on the stop sign arm that swings out when buses slow to a halt, or in a different stationary 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 Sen. Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. School districts would split fine revenue with the manufacturer until the cameras are paid for, then pocket the fines.

As with red light cameras, the ticket would be issued to the owner of the vehicle. Tickets would not carry any points on the owner’s driver’s license.

Kennedy said ignoring a school bus stop sign is “absolutely unconscionable” and illegal.

“But unfortunately, it has been unenforceable,” he said. The Senate approved the camera bill 57-0.

The boating bill says any operator, age 10 or older, of a motorized vessel must have completed a safety course. It is dubbed "Brianna’s Law,” named for Brianna Lieneck, an 11-year-old who died in an accident off Fire Island in 2005.

Such courses cost about $30 and can be taken online or in person, lawmakers said. The measure was sponsored by Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford), and co-sponsored by Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), who was the sponsor until Republicans lost control of the Senate in last fall’s elections.

A number of Republicans voiced objections to the boating measure, calling it “unenforceable” and noting the bill carries no fines and appears not to apply to boat renters.

“It’s toothless,” Sen. Jim Tedisco (R-Schenectady), said shortly before the bill passed, 40-18. “I’m afraid it’s going to give us a false sense of security.”

The GPS bill was inspired by an accident last year in which a charter bus carrying students struck an overpass on the Southern State Parkway.

Investigators then said the driver was using a “noncommercial” global positioning system that directed him onto the parkway. Commercial GPS warn of restricted highways and low bridges, Sen. James Gaughran (D-Huntington) said.

In 2009, state lawmakers considered, but abandoned, similar legislation because of legal issues involving restrictions on interstate commerce and forcing out-of-state drivers to use the devices.

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