As of March 1, the Suffolk County School Bus Safety Program is now in effect.
An effort is now being made to educate residents with up-to-date information regarding the new laws for passing a stopped school bus. Several public service announcements have also been released via social media, television and radio.
The general rule of thumb is, in almost every case, if you see a bus with its arm out you need to stop.
Motorists who illegally pass a stopped school bus will be ticketed. After an initial warning with education issued, motorists that pass a stopped bus will be fined starting at $250 for the first offense, $275 for a second and $300 for a third.
Approximately 4,500 school buses will be equipped with stop-arm exterior cameras, through a partnership between the county and BusPatrol America, according to Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone. More than half have already been outfitted with the stop-arm safety technology; including stop-arm cameras, DVR and storage devices, internal cameras, GPS, telemetry and LTE connectivity. The initiative is at no cost to the taxpayer or school districts, with installation and maintenance completed by the service agreement.
All 70 Suffolk County school districts have joined the program. According to William Floyd School District officials, about 30 percent of their transportation fleet has already been equipped with the cameras.
“I am hopeful that the county’s new bus camera program will help to deter drivers from jeopardizing the safety of our children by illegally passing stopped school buses,” said Kevin M. Coster, superintendent of schools, William Floyd School District.
Patchogue-Medford School District supervisor Donna Jones said they are currently waiting for their contracted company to install the cameras on their 10 or so buses.
“The safety of our students and staff is always a great concern for us,” she said. “Therefore, any measures that will be taken to increase bus safety will be greatly appreciated and encouraged.”
The Suffolk County Legislature approved the program in 2019 after Bay Shore and Longwood School Districts found cars illegally passed stopped buses multiple times a day. Gov. Andrew Cuomo authorized stop-arm monitoring statewide last year.
The program is now the most advanced school bus safety program in the nation, Legis. Rudy Sunderman said, noting that it features cars illegally passing busses in real time, allowing officers to issue tickets.
“As a Suffolk County legislator and a first responder, the protection and safety of our school-aged children is paramount,” Sunderman said in support of the law. “I am proud that I sponsored this important legislation with the main goal being safety of the children of Suffolk County, along with education and awareness for drivers.”
The enforcement portion of the program will be done by software overseen by professionals who will coordinate with police, local officials and school districts.
How does it work?
When a school bus is stopped, its lights and stop-arm will be activated. At that point, stop-arm cameras will be able to capture vehicles illegally passing the bus. That data will then be sent to people who will review the footage and prepare evidence packages for law enforcement.
How do you act?
Always slow down because buses make frequent stops. Remember to be patient and drive at a reasonable speed. Be alert. Always be aware of children and parents that might be near a bus stop. Come to a complete stop at least 20 feet away from a bus. Be extra careful and look around before moving.
When a school bus is stopped and flashing its lights, traffic from either direction must stop on two-lane roads, multi-lane highways and even on divided highways. Red lights mean the bus is stopped and children are getting on or off. Yellow flashing lights means the bus is preparing to stop or unload children.
According to Suffolk County Legislature presiding officer Rob Calarco, no feedback has been given as of yet and the county is currently focusing on education.
“We will be rolling this out for a period of time, providing people a warning before we start issuing tickets,” he promised. “We really want to let people know this is going to be in existence. They need to stop or they will get a ticket.”