EDITORIAL: Drivers who pass buses now on notice

School districts, municipalities must work quickly to get cameras on school buses to catch motorists who pass them.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

If you’re one of those jerks who passes stopped school buses, consider yourself on notice.

Threatening the lives of innocent school children will now be a bit harder for you to get away with, thanks to a new law signed this week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The law (A4950B/S4524B) authorizes municipalities to enter into agreements with school districts to place cameras on school buses to record the license plates of drivers who pass buses stopped to pick up or drop off children.

Each year in New York, an estimated 50,000 to 65,000 drivers pass stopped school buses, or more than 250 a day.

But right now, the only way to get in trouble for passing a school bus illegally in New York is for a police officer to witness you passing the bus. That rarely happens. This new law will give police and school officials an extra set of eyes and extra legal authorization to prosecute violators of the law.

Existing fines range from $250 for a first offense to $300 for a third violation within 18 months. Lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow the courts to suspend the registration of a vehicle owner after a third offense. They also should weigh stiffer fines and imposing points on a driver’s license for multiple violations.

Now that the bill is law, it’s up to all local counties and municipalities to get together now with their local school districts to work out agreements.

As with anything in New York, the new law is somewhat convoluted, compounded by the fact that school district boundaries often cross multiple municipal and county boundaries.

While the cameras are installed on school buses, it’s the local governments that are responsible for authorizing the cameras’ use and paying the costs of purchasing and operating the systems.

Municipalities must arrange to send out tickets and collect fines, which they can use to offset the cost of the systems or contracting with a private company.

But the challenges aren’t so immense that they can’t be overcome quickly.

In fact, some school districts have already signed contracts with private companies to not only catch drivers passing buses, but to identify vehicles whose drivers “stalk” buses with the intent of kidnapping or harming children.

Motorists are protected by provisions in the law that restrict photos only to license plates (not the car’s occupants); the records can only be kept for 90 days; and the information can’t be used for other purposes or sold.

This is a long-overdue safety measure to protect children from irresponsible drivers.

For those of you who have no consideration for children’s safety or the law, consider yourself on notice.

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