GLOVERSVILLE - The Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Regional Transportation Department will install cameras on the outside of school buses this summer to record images of drivers who illegally pass when the flashing red lights of the bus are activated.
According to New York state law, drivers on both sides of the road, even on a divided highway, must come to a full stop when a school bus is flashing its red lights. The lights signal the bus is picking up or dropping off a student who may be crossing the street. Vehicles cannot proceed until the flashing red lights are no longer activated.
First-time offenders face up to a $400 fine, five penalty points on their driving record and/or 30 days in jail. Drivers with two convictions within three years face up to $750 in fines and/or 180 days in jail.
According to the School Bus Fleet website, violators usually fall into three categories - impatient drivers; distracted drivers, and ignorant drivers (those unaware of the law).
HFM Regional buses transport about 1,600 students daily in the Gloversville Enlarged School District and the Greater Johnstown School District, officials said.
HFM Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Patrick Michel said he has been aware of the issue, but he knew the problem needed to be addressed when he witnessed it.
"I actually sat there one day and saw it," said Michel. "People have to realize that those kids might be crossing right in front of them and I understand they have to get where they want to go, but you have to think of other people and their children. When I witnessed them passing a bus right in front of me, I thought we had to do something about it."
According to the SafeNY website, in the last four years, 35 students in the state were hit by motorists passing stopped school buses. Every day nearly 50,000 motor vehicles illegally pass school buses, the website said.
The cameras, provided by FamTech, are going to be installed under the stop-sign arm that automatically swings out on the left side of a school bus when it stops and will record every driver passing the school bus and the vehicle plates.
"The video will be sent to the local police department to issue [violators] a ticket," said Terry Kersting, the supervisor of HFM Regional Transportation Department. "These cameras will go a long way in providing the concrete evidence that we needed. On a weekly basis, we get at least two to three reports and it's always been one of those things that are hard to prove."
Both Michel and Kersting said bus drivers are faced with the difficult task of watching children getting off the bus, while also trying to get legitimate identification of a driver who makes an illegal pass.
"The bus driver needs to concentrate on the child and not taking the plate down, so what will happen with these cameras is it will give us a clear picture of you and your license plate," Michel said.
Michel said he couldn't recall the exact price tag of the new cameras, but estimated it to be "a couple hundred dollars" and mentioned that this wasn't a requirement but rather a proactive approach to take care of a significant issue.
Kersting also said the expense wasn't that significant considering the bus service was already improving their camera system so the additional cost of wiring and the camera was minimal.