School bus cameras catch motorists' violations

Three districts test pilot program

By Joseph Spector • • October 28, 2009, 7:05 pm

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ALBANY -- Cameras on school buses at three school districts in New York this year nabbed dozens of drivers who illegally passed stopped buses, prompting calls to expand the pilot program statewide.

Brewster in Putnam County, Bethlehem in Albany County and Canandaigua in Ontario County voluntarily participated in the 40-day program, funded by a roughly $40,000 federal grant through the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee.
Each district received one camera. The results showed 22 illegal passes in Canandaigua, 20 illegal passes in Bethlehem, and four illegal passes in Brewster.
The results were better than the statewide average of about one illegal pass per bus a day, or about 50,000 illegal passes of stopped school buses a day.
The success of the program, officials said, gives them reason to seek it statewide.
Not only do the cameras deter drivers from ignoring school bus signals, they free up bus drivers from having to juggle driving, watching the children and keeping detailed descriptions of violators, they said.
"The load on the bus driver is critical," said Peter Mannella, executive director of state Association of Pupil Transportation.
"They have 60 kids on the bus, they have to watch the traffic, people going in and out and then they got to be able to" get a license plate number and a description of the driver, he said.
The cameras were installed above the front driver's side window and manufactured by ELSAG, North America, based in Brewster.
The cameras were able to catch license plates of vehicles that didn't brake for a stopped bus that had its red flashing lights engaged.
But because the use of the cameras is not written into state statute, the evidence could not be used to issue traffic infractions.
Instead, schools forwarded the information to the state Department of Motor Vehicles or sometimes local police, which followed up with a written or verbal warning to the motorist.
Under current traffic laws, school bus drivers can fill out an affidavit if they are able to identify a vehicle, and ideally the driver, that didn't stop for a bus.