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N.Y. Attorney General Targets School Buses Running Red Lights

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he aims to close a loophole in state law that doesn’t require school bus contractors to report their drivers’ red-light infractions to the DMV. The state’s school bus contractors association responded that the companies are unfairly under attack.

Schneiderman said on Tuesday, the second day of National School Bus Safety Week, that all school bus companies should be required by law to maintain copies of all red-light camera violations and report them in the annual affidavit of compliance filed with the state DMV as well as with the school districts they serve.

The Attorney General’s office subpoenaed data from 15 randomly selected school bus contractors operating in Suffolk County and Westchester County from 2014 through last year and uncovered nearly 1,500 red-light infractions by drivers. In 1974, New York began the widespread use of red-light cameras to record violations, but the cameras only capture the vehicle’s license plate, so tickets are sent to the registrant, or in this case the school bus company, rather than the driver.

State law mandates that each violation adds three points to a driver’s license, and three red light camera violations accumulated during an 18-month period results in driver license disqualification for a one-year period.

But Schneiderman explained that school bus companies aren’t required by state law to submit the individual infractions to the DMV. He called the loophole “big enough to drive a school bus through.”

Several of the cited school bus companies are members of the New York School Bus Contractors Association (NYSBCA), which pointed out to STN that school districts, transit bus operators, motorcoach operators and even the likes of Fed Ex and UPS are also not required by state law to report their driver red-light infractions.

“In any of these instances where a driver is found to have gone through a stop light, it is not just swept under the rug,” said Al Roney, a spokesman for NYSBCA. “It is taken very seriously, and, while different companies may have different disciplinary procedures, the driver is subjected to retraining, suspension and/or possible termination.”

Download: “Wrong on Red: Report on School Bus Traffic Light Violations”

While Roney said that NYSBCA is disappointed that Schneiderman’s office did not attempt to seek additional information from the association or individual companies during its investigation, he added that the group looks forward to closely working with the Attorney General’s office and the state legislature “to ensure that any potential issues are addressed and that maximum student safety is ensured.”

Schneiderman’s office had yet to respond at this report to STN’s questions about why school bus companies in only Suffolk and Westchester counties were targeted, and why school districts were omitted from the study. Additionally, STN asked for clarification on if there are any additional studies in the works or planned in addition to that attempt to gauge red-light violations among other motor carriers.

Roney said the timing of the report or its release during School Bus Safety Week should not detract from the message that school buses operated by both private contractors and school districts offer students the safest way to get to and from school.

“In fact, according to the (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking a bus instead of traveling by car,” he added.

Meanwhile, the New York Association for Pupil Transportation (NYAPT), the advocate for public school district transportation employees, released a statement reminding the public that the school bus safety record “is due to intensive training and driver preparation as well as proper and aggressive maintenance of our yellow school buses.”

“It also reflects extensive research data published by NHTSA and others that the yellow school bus is the safest mode of transporting students to and from school,” NYAPT added.

NYAPT Executive Director Peter Mannella later told STN that it remains “troubling” that so many red-light violations were recorded. He said he wonders how many occurred at intersections without cameras.

“That question is one for our industry,” he added, “and I think it’s a conversation we need to have.”

Related: High Schooler Finds Bus Drivers Regularly Running Stop Signs

The National School Transportation Association (NSTA) also weighed in on the report. In a statement, the organization representing the interests of North American private school bus contractors said it and the entire student transportation industry remains proud of the school bus safety record and committed to ensuring student safety.

“NSTA also agrees that these types of violations need to be taken very seriously and appropriately addressed with each driver,” the statement sent to STN on Wednesday reads. “While school bus transportation companies utilize differing disciplinary procedures, these violations should be viewed as being serious and the drivers be subjected to retraining, suspension and/or possible termination. We also believe that our member companies view and treat these violations in a similar manner.”

Meanwhile, NYAPT also pledged to work with Schneiderman and the state legislature, but the organization added that it also wants to see progress made toward enforcing the law that requires other motorists to stop for school buses when they load and discharge students.

“We are deeply concerned as an association about the reality that some 50,000 motorists pass stopped school buses illegally every day of the school year across the state,” NYAPT said. “We urge the Attorney General to assist us in identifying ways in which we can reduce the incidence of that urgent problem, including the use of similar digital camera technology.”


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