School bus cameras may be coming to Suffolk County

Drivers who illegally pass school buses could be caught on camera if a bill proposed in the Suffolk County Legislature passes. 

School officials who spoke at a public hearing of the Suffolk County Legislature last Wednesday expressed concerns about bus safety and urged the county to add cameras on buses similar to those used at some traffic lights to catch drivers who speed through a red light.

Dan Tomaszewski, a board member in the Longwood Center School District, advocated for a local law that would require installing cameras on the exterior of school buses and imposing a $250 fine for a first-time offender who fails to stop for a bus that has a stop sign extended. Subsequent violations would incur fines of $275 and $300, if the law is passed.

The program would begin as voluntary for individual school districts to opt into. East End districts would have the chance to opt in just as the rest of the county even though the East End towns have their own police forces.

“The goal behind it is not to issue any tickets,” said Legislator Rudy Sunderman (R-Shirley), who sponsored the bill. “Our goal — my goal is children’s safety, because the numbers are extremely high of reports from the school districts that have been tracking it prior.”

He said the bill came from discussions with school districts who have pushed for the cameras.

Mr. Tomaszewski, a volunteer fireman of 40 years, said drivers need to be held accountable.

“I hope that none of you have ever had to be at a scene — I know [Mr. Sunderman and I] have — where you had to put a blanket over a child on the side of the road,” Mr. Tomaszewski said. “There is nothing worse in my life that I’ve ever experienced, and our kids are at risk every day and it’s getting greater.”

Longwood school transportation coordinator John Ryan said there are 96 school bus passing incidents each day in the district while buses are loading and unloading children, based on monthly driver surveys.

“I think about the 5-year-old that sees that yellow school bus showing up and is going to head toward it, regardless of if that driver is close or not,” Mr. Ryan said.

Dawn Sharrock, a board member in Middle Country, said her district has been advocating for the law for two years and already has cameras in place — but the process is slow and not yet backed by legislation.

“I’m sure I don’t have to tell any of you that there are over 50,000 cars that illegally pass a stopped school bus a day in New York State,” she said. “I’ve witnessed it dropping my own kids off. Cars do not stop for you and they definitely speed past the schools.”

Speakers said the intention of adding school bus cameras is not a money grab.

“I don’t want this to fall under the same stigma of the red light cameras,” Ms. Sharrock said. “This isn’t about that. This is about safety of our children. Our children’s lives matter.”

Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport) agreed, saying that definitions surrounding the local law be clear, especially as it pertains to bus drivers administering amber lights ahead of a stop — which they are required to do 300 feet prior to stopping, according to Mr. Ryan.

“I want to catch the bad actors and I don’t want to have a law that some would interpret as a ‘gotcha,’ thinking that it’s revenue-driven,” he said. “I want it to be completely safety-driven.”

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) spoke on the importance of educating both children and adults on the rules and safety precautions.

“People are confused [about] whether they need to stop on a highway or not,” she said. “… They need to understand that it is a divided highway; however they need to stop when there’s a school bus on the other side.”

Estimated costs for implementing the cameras were not provided.

Caption: Students step off the bus at Roanoke Elementary. (Credit: Tara Smith) 

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