CANTON - Twenty years ago in the spring of 1993, a small group of school bus professionals came up with the idea to partner with local police to monitor and crack down on drivers who passed stopped school buses. This locally-grown program was soon implemented statewide and became known as Operation Safe Stop. It has continued as an important traffic safety initiative to this day.
On Thursday, local police officers, sheriff patrols and state troopers will monitor traffic around school buses and specifically be on the alert for motorists who are illegally passing those school buses. Their monitoring efforts will focus on bus stops in areas that local school officials indicate have been problem spots for their school buses. This program is conducted by NYAPT and the school transportation community in cooperation with the Governors Traffic Safety Committee.
The issue of illegal passing of school buses by motorists is one that presents significant risk of injury and harm to our children. The New York Association for Pupil Transportation joins all who care about school bus safety and the safety of our children in deploring illegal passing and in striving to eliminate it in New York State.
School transportation officials estimate that some 50,000 motorists will pass a stopped school bus on any given school day in New York State. Its important, however, to understand some of the numbers:
■ In pilot projects that we conducted with the Governors Traffic Safety Committee that used on-board digital cameras, we experienced rates of passing that were as high as 80,000 passes per day.
■ In a recent survey of members in late March and early April, school bus drivers reported over 1,400 random incidents of illegal passing including 26 passes on the passenger or right side of the school bus. Each and every one of those passes was a moment at which a young child could have been struck and either injured seriously or killed by the vehicle.
■ In the past several years on Operation Safe Stop Day, a daily average of 1,300 tickets were written by local and State Police for illegal passing of school buses.
Here is what the law provides: that every motorist stop for a school bus that is stopped and has its red flashing lights engaged, indicating it is either picking up or dropping off children. Failure to stop for those red lights can result in fines ranging from $250-$400 for the first violation, five points on the registered motorists license and even imprisonment.