A series of bills that advocates say will help improve school safety in New York State passed a key legislative committee on Tuesday.
The Assembly Transportation Committee reported out five bills, moving them to further committees, including one measure that would allow stop arm cameras to be installed on school buses. Members of New York’s Association for Pupil Transportation have been advocating for legislation to, among other things, help law enforcement officials catch drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses.
“These (bills) have been priorities of the school transportation community and we are pleased to see them advance like this,” Peter Mannella, Executive Director of New York’s Association for Pupil Transportation, said in a statement.
When a bill is reported out by the Assembly committee, that means it passed in that committee. In this instance, they will move to the codes committee for further consideration.
The stop arm camera legislation would be discretionary for school boards to pass a resolution authorizing the cameras to be installed and used on buses. Enforcement of illegally passing school buses has become the focus of a yearly crackdown on drivers on New York’s roads in recent years.
An estimated 54,962 drivers statewide passed a school bus on a single day in March 2017. Nationwide, an estimated 10 million drivers illegally pass stopped school buses each year.
A first-time conviction for illegally passing a school bus could result in fines ranging from $250 to $400, five points on the drivers’ license and potentially 30 days in jail.
Not every incident involves in a ticket issued against the driver, according to police. Sometimes a warning is given.
Another of the bills, which was designed to enhance drug and alcohol testing protocols for school bus drivers, was sponsored by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, D-Endwell.
The legislation would increase the number of drivers who are subjected to such testing, as well as increasing the number of hours that must elapse before a driver can operate a school bus.
“School bus drivers are entrusted with transporting students to and from school safely,” Lupardo said in a statement Tuesday.
“Under current law, drivers of smaller buses are not required to be tested for drugs and alcohol,” she said. “By closing this loophole, we’ll make the school commute safer for children and for other motorists on the road. I’m glad this bill has made it out of the Transportation Committee and is one step closer to a vote on the Assembly floor.”
Other bills reported out Tuesday in the Assembly’s Transportation Committee included:
Creation of a fund to promote awareness of school bus safety and particularly increase public understanding about the dangers of illegal passing.
Doubling fines for drivers of large commercial vehicles that pass stopped school buses.
Providing license suspension for multiple convictions of illegally passing stopped school buses. It would impose a 60-day suspension on any motorist who is convicted two or more times of illegally passing a stopped school bus.
School bus involved in rollover crash near Tolleson
Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is investigating after a school bus full of kids crashed and rolled on its side near Tolleson Wednesday morning.
The crash happened near Southern Avenue and El Mirage Road at about 7:30 a.m.
The school bus had six children on board who were all uninjured and released to their parents, according to Littleton Elementary School District.
The driver of the bus was taken to a local hospital with minor injuries.
Sgt. Bryant Vanegas with MCSO said the crash involved one other vehicle that ran a stop sign. The driver of that car had no injuries.
Impairment and speed do not appear to be factors in the crash, Vanegas said.
What school bus drivers can do to diminish the likelihood of bus stop tragedies following accidents in Indiana, Mississippi
School bus drivers who pick up students should be sure no vehicles are moving before motioning for the children to enter, a school safety expert said after four kids were killed in two separate accidents this week.
The children were killed as they tried to get on buses in Indiana and Mississippi. The driver in Indiana specifically told investigators that he saw the pickup truck driven by Alyssa Shepherd in the distance before Tuesday’s accident, but believed she would stop, according to WRTV.
“You don’t have kids go into the road until all traffic is stopped,” Safety Rules! founder Ted Finlayson-Schueler told the Daily News on Thursday.
According to the Commercial Driver’s License manuals in both Indiana and Mississippi, bus drivers are supposed to make a final check “to see that all traffic has stopped before completely opening the door and signaling students to approach.”
However, he emphasized that students should also be well informed on when it is safe to enter their bus.
“To be perfectly honest with you, the problem is the drivers and the students don’t have a specific plan to deal with motorists who don’t stop for the lights,” said Finlayson-Schueler, who is based in Syracuse.
He said students should be trained and educated on when to enter the bus.
Shepherd, the Indiana driver, was charged with three counts of reckless homicide in connection with the deaths of 6-year-old twin brothers Xzavier and Mason Ingle and their older sister Alivia Stahl, who was 9. Local residents had complained the bus stop was not safe, and the location has since been changed.
The bus driver has not been charged.
The following day 9-year-old Dalen Thomas was fatally struck by a truck in Mississippi as he tried to get on his bus.
And there were two more tragic incidents on Thursday. A 7-year-old boy in Pennsylvania was fatally struck by a hit-and-run driver while waiting for his bus, and five people, including three children, were struck by a car at a school bus stop in Florida. One child was critically injured.
Finlayson-Schueler said there are about 5-10 fatal incidents during the school year related to students trying to get on buses, so “to have four happen in a week is pretty statistically unusual.”
He said the National Association for Pupil Transportation is aiming to lower fatalities to zero by 2025. The organization’s conference and trade show took place this week in Missouri.
“For this to happen at same time, it shows we have a lot of work to do,” Finlayson-Schueler said.
City Council committee to hold hearing on school bus fiasco following Daily News series
A City Council committee will hold a hearing on the crisis in the city’s school bus system, following a Daily News series which exposed rampant complaints about the hiring of drivers with serious criminal records.
Brooklyn Councilman Mark Treyger (D-Besonhurst), chair of the City Council Education Committee, scheduled an Oct. 16 oversight hearing on the Education Department’s Office of Pupil Transportation.
The News previously exposed massive delays and no shows in the bus system. By Sept. 14 — just the fifth day of school — the city’s busing complaint line had been flooded with calls, receiving 76,223 compared to 57,575 calls last year.
An online tally published by the city showed at least 1,010 yellow bus delays and other problems with school buses in one day, as families reported no-shows and late buses.
The News has also previously reported that more than 100 drivers did not get full background checks over the past five months and at least six drivers had been convicted of serious crimes including domestic abuse, drunk driving and secretly filming a woman in the shower. One driver had 13 prior arrests.
“First and foremost we need to understand how and why this happened,” Treyger said, calling for a full investigation. “If companies are not complying with contracts with the city of New York, there must be consequences. We’re talking about our children. This is one of our most basic functions and the city failed many of our kids.”
DOE officials announced an overhaul of the background check system on Sept. 19 — something Treyger credited to the Daily News.
“I also want to publicly thank the Daily News for its coverage of this important issue,” Treyger added. “If not for the News I’m not sure that these issues would ever have come to light.”
Meanwhile, the Education Dept. investigations unit that does the background checks has been moved to the Human Resources division on Court St. in Brooklyn from the OPT offices in Queens – a transfer that some investigators are unhappy with.
The background investigations and penalties for misconduct will now be finalized by DOE lawyers.
The City Council oversight panel will also hear testimony on a series of bills, including one that would require DOE to disclose policies and procedures involving drivers and attendants and one that would require two-way radios, cell phones and GPS devices on the buses, Treyger’s office said.
“Parents should not have to wonder where their child is or when their child is finally getting home from a school bus ride gone off track. With the measures required in this bill, parents picking up or dropping off their child could rest assured knowing when and where their school bus is, using an app on their phone,” said Council Member Ben Kallos (D-UES), a new parent who proposed the GPS bill.
Other bills include the creation of a school bus bill of rights, and more extensive training and tracking of drivers and attendants who work with kids with disabilities.
Education Department Senior Transportation Advisor Kevin Moran said city families deserve consistently good bus service.
“We’re meeting with families, bus vendors, and school leaders for their feedback on how we can improve our systems, and look forward to working together to implement more changes,” Moran said.
As of this Monday, the city schools yellow bus help line had received 129,827 calls, compared to 109,548 in the same period last year.
But school officials said the call volume has begun to slow down, suggesting some of the service problems may be easing.
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