Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill aiming to crack down on impaired school bus operators from getting behind the wheel by requiring all bus drivers to submit to random drug testing.
The new law, which will take effect in 120 days, requires all bus drivers throughout the state to be eligible for random drug and alcohol screenings.
It also increases prohibits school bus drivers from drinking alcohol eight hours prior to their shift, an increase from the previous rule of six hours.
Under previous law and federal rules, drivers operating mini-buses carrying fewer than 16 passengers were not required to submit to drug and alcohol testing, according to a sponsors’ memo attached to the bill.
Only 10 percent of a motor carrier’s drivers, meanwhile, were subject to random drug screenings, though many individual school districts had tougher requirements, according to the memo.It also ensures that school districts’ cost of drug testing is eligible for reimbursement from the state.
There have been at least four incidents in which a school bus operator has been arrested for operating a school bus while intoxicated since 2012, according to the bill.
Under the new law, all school bus drivers will be placed in the pool for random drug screenings, including those driving small vehicles.
The bill cleared both chambers of the legislature this past session and was signed into law on Friday.
It was sponsored by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, D-Endwell, and Sen. Carl Marcellino, R-Nassau County.Lupardo, the senior upstate member of the Assembly’s transportation committee, said in a interview Monday that it took four years to get the bill to pass, even after approval from the state Senate.
“It’s not an easy committee to get legislation through, especially when it in some way increases penalties,” she said. “My Assembly colleagues who oversee the transportation committee are very, very cautious when anything is expanded, whether it’s red-light cameras or stop-arm cameras.”
She became a strong advocate of the new requirements for bus drivers when she was contacted by the New York Association for Pupil Transportation.
“They were frustrated about their inability to get movement on this bill,” she said. “Sometimes when it’s something that seems so obvious, I take it on as a challenge. I’ve approached a number of bills that way — in my office, we call it ‘dog with bone.’”
“When a child leaves home and gets on the school bus, no parent should have to worry if their child is safe,” Marcellino said in a statement. “It is our responsibility to do everything that we can to put their well-being first. This bill will do just that.”
The new law drew praise from the New York Association for Pupil Transportation, which represents the school bus industry.
Peter Mannella, the association’s executive director, said the new law will help “assure parents that their children are in safe hands at all times.”
The association had pushed for the bill’s passage since it was first introduced in 2014.
“We never want to explain to parents or to the public why a compromised bus driver had been given the keys to drive a school bus,” Mannella said in a statement. “That should never happen. We just helped ensure that it never does.”
Lupardo is happy that the new testing rules finally have become law.
“When you pass a bill like this, it’s a relief on a lot of levels — but it’s a relief to know that children will be safer on their way to school and the driving public will be safer,” she said. “It’s about the kids, but also about the other people on the road.”
83-year-old man walking with wife in Queens fatally struck by school bus
MIDDLE VILLAGE, Queens (WABC) — A man was fatally struck by a school bus in Queens Wednesday morning.
Authorities say the 83-year-old victim was walking with his wife at 67th Drive and 73rd Place in Middle Village just after 8:30 a.m. when the school bus made a left turn at the intersection and struck him.
He was pronounced dead at the scene. His wife was not injured. He was later identified as Bing Nuan Chen, who area residents say owns a popular Chinese restaurant.
There were no children on the bus at the time
The driver stayed at the scene and the investigation is ongoing, but witnesses said they believed sun glare played a role in the crash and that the driver was distraught after the accident.
“When we looked out the window, we saw the school bus and we saw the door open,” one witness said. “The bus driver was on the floor, flat, and he was screaming. So we thought at first it was the bus driver that got hurt. But what happened was he must have went and looked and saw that he hit someone, and that this poor person was underneath the bus. He was screaming. He was very devastated. He couldn’t get out. He was laying in the middle of the floor. It’s a devastating thing.”
Neighbors say the intersection is dangerous because it doesn’t have any painted lines indicating a crosswalk, and they believe that also may have been a factor.
At this point, it is unclear if any charges will be filed.
Technology Demonstration Highlights Potential Benefits of Federal School Bus Stop Legislation
Congressional representatives who are championing a federal bill that targets motorists who illegally pass school buses marked National School Bus Safety Week by attending a demonstration of the very technologies they want to implement.
U.S. Reps. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) and Julia Brownley (D-Calif.), and Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.), sponsors of the STOP for School Buses Act, attended a school bus safety technology showcase that was hosted by the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) on Wednesday. The event featured a school bus that was equipped with examples of technology that is used to prevent stop-arm violations.
“Every driver shares the roads with school buses, and we all have a role to play in keeping kids safe,” Rep. Walorski said. “Today’s event was an important opportunity to learn more about innovative technologies that can help prevent drivers from illegally passing school buses, and to discuss our bipartisan efforts in Congress to ensure students are safe on their way to and from school. The STOP for School Buses Act will help states and local communities take the most effective actions to prevent tragedies and save lives.”
Indiana Fatalities Remembered
Oct. 30 marks the one-year anniversary of the tragic deaths of three young Indiana students, twin boys, and their step-sister, who were killed by a motorist as they crossed a rural road to board their waiting school bus. The driver was found guilty this week of three counts of reckless homicide.
Sen. Young said that the state and the entire nation can no longer accept similar tragedies as the new normal. “Today was an opportunity to raise support for the Stop for School Buses Act and spread awareness for the much-needed review of existing safety laws surrounding our school buses,” he added.
Congresswoman Brownley noted, “As a mom and a former school board member, ensuring our children get safely to and from school every day is an issue that is near and dear to my heart.” She commented that “We need to do more to educate drivers and to assess new technologies that can prevent illegal school bus passing. Kids’ lives depend on it.”
Sen. Peters added, “No parent should ever have to worry about their child being injured or even losing their life while waiting for or boarding their school bus. He said that “We’ve seen a growing number of incidents that pose a risk to the safety of our students and we must take action. It’s time for the Senate to pass the STOP for School Buses Act. I am hopeful that new technologies, combined with a comprehensive review of best school bus safety practices, will help dramatically reduce these tragic accidents.”
John Benish, Jr., NSTA president and chief operating officer of school bus contractor Cook-Illinois Corporation in Chicago, said the event demonstrated the growing problem of illegal passing of stopped school buses and showcased new technologies that promise to prevent the problem.
“NSTA thanks Congresswomen Walorski and Brownley, and Senators Young and Peters, for being present with us today, and for their tremendous leadership on this issue, and all who attended the event today,” said Benish. “We look forward to continuing to work with Congress to advance this legislation and prevent needless tragedies.”
Benish added, “As a father of four, and an owner a family operated school transportation company ensuring students are transported in a safe and efficient manner, is of utmost importance. I look forward to a continuing dialogue with policymakers about ways we can make the safest form of transportation even safer.”
One of the technologies that was demonstrated is a predictive stop-arm system from Safe Fleet that uses artificial intelligence to determine if other vehicles on the road will stop or not for the school bus. If it determines a vehicle is about to pass, it sounds an alarm to warn the students and emits visible signals to the school bus driver.
“As the industry’s trusted leader in school bus safety technologies for over 20 years, we are pleased to have participated in today’s live demonstrations,” said Chris Akiyama, vice president of school buses at Safe Fleet. “Earlier today, we showed the Predictive Stop Arm and Driver Alert solutions in action and how they can proactively keep students out of harm’s way. Our solution aims to save lives by gauging the risk of stop-arm violations, and notifying drivers and students before an accident occurs. We look forward to a future where the School Bus Danger Zone can become a safety zone.”
NSTA thanked the sponsors and cosponsors of the STOP Act for their leadership in advancing the legislation.
Curt Macysyn, NSTA executive director, told School Transportation News, “The precipitous growth of this illegal, and dangerous activity by distracted motorists, continues to highlight the need for immediate passage of the STOP for School Buses Act.”
Walorski, Young, Brownley, and Peters, earlier this year introduced the STOP for School Buses Act (H.B. 2218 / S.B. 1254), to improve student safety by examining ways to prevent dangerous, illegal passing of school buses when children are present. The bipartisan, bicameral bill would direct the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct a comprehensive review of existing laws and programs, recommend best practices and create a nationwide public safety campaign.
The STOP for School Buses Act would order a comprehensive, nationwide review of efforts to prevent illegal passing of buses. Under the bill, USDOT would:
- Compile illegal passing laws in all states, including levels of enforcement and penalties.
- Review existing public safety measures and programs to prevent illegal passing of school buses.
- Issue recommendations on best practices for preventing illegal passing.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of various technologies that may help prevent illegal passing incidents.
- Review driver education materials in all states to determine whether more information about illegal passing should be provided to drivers.
- Research connections between the illegal passing of school buses and other safety issues.
- Create and execute a public safety messaging campaign to promote safe driving when children are present and highlight the dangers of illegal passing.
Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana and is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
By David George
New York School Bus Contractors Association Kicks Off National School Bus Safety Week
LATHAM, N.Y. — The New York School Bus Contractors Association (NYSBCA), whose members transport nearly 60 percent of the 2.7 million children riding a yellow school bus in New York state each day, is supporting National School Bus Safety Week. The annual event promotes school bus safety nationwide.
The theme for this year’s National School Bus Safety Week (Oct. 21-25, 2019) is “My School Bus, The Safest Form of Student Transportation!” NYSBCA is using the occasion to urge Governor Cuomo to sign a key piece of legislation into law that has been spearheaded by NYSBCA—the school bus safety awareness bill.
The school bus safety awareness bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Rosenthal (AB 605A) and Senator Kaplan (SB2960B), passed both houses during the 2019 legislative session. NYSBCA applauds Assemblywoman Rosenthal and Senator Kaplan for their dedication and hard work in passing this important bill that will not only deter motorists from passing stopped school buses, which is happening at alarming rates, but will undoubtedly save lives.
Passing a stopped school bus is a serious violation of the vehicle and traffic law, since it places the most vulnerable members of society, our children, in grave danger. If signed into law, this legislation will ensure that drivers have a greater awareness of the law that prohibits overtaking and passing a stopped school bus. The proposed law includes a school bus safety component in the driver’s education curriculum and at least one question on school bus safety in the DMV pre-licensing written exam.
“Adding a school bus safety awareness component to the state’s driver’s education curriculum and pre-licensing exam will help ensure the safety of students statewide,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. “Students should not be put in danger when going to school and back home every day, but all too often drivers recklessly pass stopped buses. Once my bill is signed into law, this common-sense legislation will emphasize the importance of school bus safety awareness to new drivers and help to save lives.”
Senator Anna M. Kaplan said “As lawmakers, we have a solemn duty to ensure that we take every step necessary to ensure the safety of the children in our communities. So when we have a situation where an estimated 40,000 drivers in New York are illegally passing school buses each day, we have a crisis on our hands that demands attention. That’s why I’m proud to have passed legislation ensuring that drivers in this state understand the laws on school bus safety, to better protect our kids on their way to and from school.”
“Even though school buses are, by far, the safest way for a child to get to and from school every day, there is always more that can be done to make that ride even safer. Protecting our children as they travel to and from school should be just as high a priority as protecting them while at school. By ensuring that drivers are taught from the very beginning the dangers and illegality of passing a stopped school bus, we are empowering drivers to make safer decisions while on the road,” said the NYSBCA President, Corey Muirhead.
About the New York School Bus Contractors Association
The New York School Bus Contractors Association organization represents over 100 school transportation companies (school bus contractors). The industry transports more than half of all the children who ride a school bus to and from school each day. The association’s primary mission is to promote safe, reliable and cost-effective student transportation services for New York’s schoolchildren. www.nysbca.com
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