"It's a daily occurrence": Drivers illegally passing school buses

(WHAM photo)

Gates, N.Y. – Four crashes in three days in four different states - all involving kids waiting for the school bus: Three crashes involved fatalities, and two were caused of drivers passing a stopped school bus.

It’s a scary reality for bus drivers and students. Drivers illegally passing a stopped school bus that's picking up or dropping off kids is a daily occurrence for bus drivers in the Gates Chili School District, according to George English.

English is the director of facilities and transportation with the district. He says, to date, his drivers have been able to report 12 vehicles for illegal passing this school year, which is probably only a quarter of those who do.

“If a driver does see someone pass, they're supposed to beep the horn to have the student return to safety, and we also have forms we have the driver fill out, and the form is [only] useful if we're able to get a license plate number,” said English. “Every month, we send in a report to the DMV, and they send out a letter reminding people about the importance and safety about not passing a stopped school bus.”

Sergeant Robert Long with the Gates Police Department works with English on identifying problem areas and deterring drivers.

“We see it quite frequently, passed school buses, especially on the main streets,” said Long. “We're very proactive in enforcing and stopping people who do violate and pass by school buses.”

A tool that could help them is a camera, something that some lawmakers have been trying to get on buses for several years.

The School Bus Camera Safety Act was first proposed in 2013, but it has yet to go to the governor’s desk.

It was reintroduced this year. It unanimously passed the State Senate and is now in the Code’s Committee in the Assembly. Majority Leader Joe Morelle said there’s no timeline on the committee vote, but he’s confident action will be taken in January. Fellow Democrat, and the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman William Magnarelli out of Syracuse said, “For the safety of our children, we will continue pursuing this legislation next year. Safety cameras on our buses are important to make sure that our children can board and exit school buses safely.”

For English, police enforcement is the best defense they currently have to stop drivers from passing a stopped bus that’s picking up or dropping off kids.

“We have a lot of four lane roads in town, so they'll be on the right-hand side and just not realize people are stopping on the other side,” said Sgt. Long. “Anytime there's red lights on the bus, you have a to stop. So if you're on a four lane, six lane, two lane, it doesn't matter the number of lanes on the highway, you have to stop and allow the kids to stop safely.”

In a one-day survey in March of this year, the New York State Association for Pupil Transportation found more than 30,000 drivers illegally passed a school bus on that day in the state.

Passing a stopped school bus comes with a heavy fine. If convicted, a driver faces a $250-400 fine and five points on their driver license. They could also face up to 30 days jail time for a first violation.

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