Editorial: There’s no excuse for passing a stopped school bus

At a recent meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature, this startling statistic was discussed: Each day in New York State, some 50,000 cars illegally pass a stopped school bus that has its lights flashing and is picking up or dropping off children.

At first glance, that number seems incredibly high, but those who spoke at the Legislature last week described seeing cars pass a stopped school bus almost daily.

Dan Tomaszewski, a member of the Longwood School District who is also a volunteer fireman of 40 years, told legislators, “I hope that none of you have ever had to be at a scene … where you have to put a blanket over a child on the side of the road.”

With that heartbreaking account as the backdrop, the legislators discussed a pending bill that would add cameras to school buses so that drivers who don’t have any regard for flashing lights — or children’s safety — can be caught and prosecuted. This bill is nothing but common sense and, if approved, could save lives. We urge the Legislature to approve this bill and work with school districts to get the cameras up and running as soon as possible.

We’ve all seen irresponsible and aggressive drivers on the road — the ones who pull up just inches behind you and flash their lights because you turned in front of them and they had to slow down and were ever so slightly inconvenienced.

Or the drivers who purposefully drive with two wheels over the white line on the shoulder just to intimidate a cyclist. In a recent example, a driver plowed straight into a man riding a bike on a rural road, and when a police officer asked her what happened, she said she didn’t see him — even though he was directly in front of her.

Throw in the drivers who talk and text on their cellphones and you have a perfect recipe for accidents. Stupid is as stupid does, as Forrest Gump once said.

Speeding past a stopped school bus as children are climbing aboard is so horrific it should warrant a speedy trial and an unpleasant stay in the Big House. We are exaggerating, of course. It goes without saying that, if cameras mounted on buses can catch these drivers, then the bill now pending in the Legislature should be quickly approved and signed into law.

As planned, the program would begin as voluntary, letting school districts opt in if they want to participate. First-time offenders who pass a bus with lights flashing and its stop sign extended would receive a fine of $250. Subsequent violations would generate higher fines.

Legislator Rudy Sunderman (R-Shirley) said money isn’t the goal. “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.”

The program would be similar to the red light camera system already in place in many parts of the county. While even an alert and sensible driver can sometimes get caught at a quick-changing light, there’s no excuse for speeding past a stopped school bus.