Suffolk Student Hit by Driver who failed to Stop for a School Bus
County to Implement New Program Recommendations from the Advisory Committee after a Review of 2021 Program Data
Suffolk County officials today announced a series of recommendations regarding the School Bus Safety Program. The seven recommendations, from the School Bus Safety Advisory Committee, focus on continued education for motorists and enhanced safety for students.
In August 2019, New York State authorized legislation allowing the installation of stop-arm cameras on school buses in order to catch drivers who unlawfully pass a stopped school bus. The School Bus Safety Program in Suffolk is designed to protect students when they are getting on and off a school bus and deter motorists who illegally pass stopped school buses. With more than 223,000 K-12 students, there are approximately 4,500 school buses equipped with advanced safety technology that include stop-arm cameras.
Last year, a young student was struck by a vehicle after exiting the school bus on a residential street. The accident, which was caught on camera, shows the school bus had its flashing red lights on and stop arm activated.
Paul Margiotta, Director, Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency said: “Through the County’s School Bus Violation Monitoring Safety Program we are working to change reckless driver behavior, and most importantly protect children as they are getting on and off the bus.”
Jean Souliere, CEO, Bus Patrol said: “Our program fosters the best spirit of a public-private partnership focused uniquely on child safety. With distracted driving on the rise, the residents of Suffolk County — from parents and school officials to law enforcement and bus drivers — want safer roads. This change involves a cultural shift that prioritizes child safety over the risky driving habits that have evolved over time, I am so very proud of what the Safety Committee has accomplished so far.”
Debra Hagan, President, TWU Local 252 said: “In the past it was the sole responsibility of the school bus driver to try to catch sight of a license plate of a motorist violating the law however with the implementation of the Stop Arm Camera program and the increased awareness of the law to motorists it has improved the safety for students crossing when boarding and deboarding school buses.”
David Christopher, Executive Director, New York Association for Pupil Transportation said: “The New York Association for Pupil Transportation applauds Suffolk County in establishing the very successful School Bus Stop Arm Camera program. This model program is an effective enforcement and educational initiative to address the illegal passing of stopped school buses. Suffolk County children are safer riding school buses to and from school due to this important safety initiative.”
John Ryan, Longwood School District Transportation Coordinator said: “At a monthly safety meeting for school bus drivers, I asked if they had seen a difference in driver behavior since the start of this program. More than three-quarters of the drivers responded that they had seen a noticeable improvement in driver behavior. Longwood averages 88 cars passing our school buses daily when loading or unloading our students, with the red stop lights flashing. Through the program's launch, I am hopeful we can continue to see a reduction in that number. If you see a school bus with amber lights on, be prepared to stop. When the red lights are on, a child is either getting on or off the bus. Please stop - a child's life counts on it.”
Lori Fontana, Region Director, Suffolk Region PTA said: “PTA has always Advocated for the education and safety of all children and we feel that the County’s School Bus Violation Monitoring Safety Program is another positive step to protecting the children of Suffolk County.”
Rich Gallagher, Bay Shore School District Transportation Coordinator said: “The number we have used for a long time is 50,000 passes a day in New York State. With the new numbers we are seeing with having these cameras on, it is probably closer to 75,000 passes a day of a school bus. Every one of these passes is a potential time a child could get hurt.”
Prior to the implementation of the School Bus Safety Program in May of last year, the County convened the School Bus Safety Advisory Committee that was charged with providing recommendations and best practices for the implementation of the program authorized by New York State. The Committee was tasked with providing recommendations on the development of a robust public awareness campaign to educate residents on the state laws surrounding stopping for school buses, enforcement that the public should anticipate and rollout of the new safety program.
Following the conclusion of 2021, the County reconvened the task force to examine program data, and provide any additional recommendations as the program progresses into 2022.
The advisory committee presented seven recommendations to the County, all of which the County will be adopting.
- Installation of additional road signage to educate motorists
- Distribution of educational material for schools to further enhance student safety
- Develop a training video for school bus operators
- Launch of a New Public Service Announcement Campaign
- Implementation of a data sharing program with school districts
- Education event in April to highlight Operation Safe Stop at Bus Patrol’s Suffolk County Headquarters
- Funding for School Districts for school safety initiatives and education of the state law
As part of the recommendations put forward by the Advisory Committee, the County will distribute approximately $1.2 million in funding for schools to enhance student safety. The public safety funding for districts will be funded with revenue generated from the County’s School Bus Safety Program and will be provided to school districts that are currently participating in the county-wide bus safety monitoring program. The funding for student safety programs and initiatives, along with education of the state laws associated with stopping for school buses, will be distributed before the end of the school year to school districts based on population size.
Suffolk County has already installed more than 103 road signs which warn motorists about the need to stop for school buses and emphasize the presence of enforcement technology. The County will be working with Bus Patrol to install an additional 25 signs based on a review of ticket data, and a number of requests from school districts.
The County will also work with Bus Patrol to disseminate educational materials, including animated videos, educational songs, and handouts to school districts to help better protect students as they get on and off the bus.
Consistent with educating students, the County and Bus Patrol will develop a second training video targeted towards bus drivers. The video, which will build off previous training efforts, can be used during the onboarding of new drivers, and also to reeducate current drivers on best safety practices. The training module will contain examples and program footage for the County’s School Bus Violation Monitoring Safety Program.
As we approach the one year mark of the program’s implementation, the County will be providing approximately $125,000 in an initial round of funding to launch a new Public Service Announcement (PSA) campaign, “Don’t Try to Beat the Red.” The campaign will focus on educating motorists on school bus stopping laws and safety practices. The campaign will be designed to educate drivers on the inherent dangers of accelerating past the amber lights to avoid having to stop for a school bus.
Additionally, in an effort to enhance student safety, a process will be developed to provide school administrators with specific violation data regarding their individual district. The goal will be to help identify any high-risk zones, and examine if any changes can be made to school bus routes to better protect students.
Finally, in commemoration of Operation Safe Stop Day in April, which is aimed at educating the public that passing a stopped school bus is dangerous and illegal, Bus Patrol and the advisory committee will host an event to further educate the public on the School Bus Safety Program. The event will combine law enforcement agencies, school personnel, school bus contractors, traffic safety organizations, PTAs, and more.
In 2021, there were approximately 85,000 violations issued and $12 million in revenue generated, in which the County received approximately $6.6 million after administrative fees.
In May of 2021, following approval by the Suffolk County Legislature, the County officially launched the School Bus Safety Program, following a 60-day warning period for motorists. The 60-day education period included installation of road signage, school bus bumper stickers, $500,000 towards an extensive PSA campaign and school-based outreach. The PSAs warned drivers about the dangers of illegally passing school buses and about the presence of new automated enforcement tools.
To date, more than 4,500 school buses across the County have been equipped with cutting-edge stop arm cameras to enforce school bus stopping laws and protect students.