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Long Island districts should install school bus cameras to protect kids

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

Toward the end of the 2018-19 school year, as state legislators debated whether to allow school districts to install cameras  to ticket motorists who illegally pass stopped school buses, East Meadow tested them. In the first week of the pilot program, cameras installed on the stop-sign arms of just nine buses recorded 70 violations. That's in line with what the Bay Shore district found the year before, when cameras on two buses recorded 389 drivers passing illegally in three months. And it's similar to what has been seen nationally in communities that use the cameras to both discourage such reckless behavior and punish it.

The point was clear. Passing stopped school buses is a significant and dangerous problem, and exterior cameras that catch violators are needed to address it.

New York already had steep penalties for passing stopped school buses: a fine of $250 to $400, five points on a driver's license and a possible 30 days in jail. But Nassau County police issued just 79 tickets for passing stopped school buses in 2018, while Suffolk County issued 118. Police and bus drivers say motorists are a lot more careful not to pass stopped school buses when police are near and they'll be caught.

So it was a good move when the State Legislature passed and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a bill allowing tickets to be issued based on evidence from such cameras, and it is good news to see progress locally. The Nassau County Legislature passed a law authorizing the camera monitoring program last week, and Suffolk County should do so Wednesday. That will leave it up to school districts to join the enforcement program and enter into contracts with the counties, which will hire vendors to install equipment on buses. The owner of any car ticketed would be held liable, since it is difficult to prove who is driving a car via such cameras. And costs for cameras and managing the programs, if any, will be absorbed by the counties.

These cameras could face opposition if they are perceived as being related to controversial red-light cameras, but that would be unjustified. Red-light cameras do seem to save lives by cutting down on serious collisions, but can increase the number of rear-end collisions by causing drivers to slam on their brakes. School bus cameras cut down on infractions without increasing dangers.

Approximately 100 pedestrians younger than 18 were killed in crashes related to school buses in the United States between 2007 and 2016. In 2017, a 10-year-old boy was seriously injured in Kings Park when a driver passed a stopped school bus.

Where these cameras have been used — for example, in Cobb County, Georgia, and Laurel, Mississippi, among other communities — they've helped, particularly when operated in combination with education programs. And drivers learn. In Cobb County, which operates about 1,000 buses, less than 2 percent of those ticketed are caught repeating the offense, according to officials, and violations have dropped by half. 

Cameras on school buses can punish dangerous driving — and prevent it. Long Island's school districts need to hop on board.