Ohio Senate Bill 134, which was introduced on April 22, 2019 by state Sen. Theresa Gavarone, would amend existing law on passing a school bus, “to create a new offense for vehicular homicide and vehicular assault related to improperly passing a stopped school bus, to make an appropriation.”
It seeks to increase the fines and penalties for anyone who illegally passes a school bus when its red lights and federally mandated stop arm are deployed. The bill, which supporters said is “long overdue,” would also authorize video cameras to be installed on school buses to captures footage to be used as evidence.
The bill, designated as the “School Bus Safety Act,” was referred on June 11 to the Transportation, Commerce and Workforce Committee. On Oct. 9, a third hearing was held by the committee.
The legislation, supported by the Ohio Association for Pupil Transportation, would also award grants to community schools to purchase and install cameras on buses. The cameras would record images of the license plates and drivers of motor vehicles that violate section 4511.75 of the Revised Code “by driving by a bus while it is stopped, and receiving or discharging any person.”
Melody Coniglio, president of the OAPT and the director of transportation for the Kenston Local School District, said the state’s school bus drivers reported 1,521 vehicles illegally passing a school bus, with 31 of the incidents occurring on the right side, during an Ohio School Boards Association survey on March 21.
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“That is only a small number of schools. The state has over 600 school districts. The problem has a very negative effect on our school children and their families,” Coniglio testified before the Senate committee on Oct. 2. “The lives and well-being of our most valuable citizens in our community as they commute to and from school is important. Senate Bill 134 ensures that our citizens, who for a variety of reasons don’t stop for the school bus red lights, receive stiffer penalties.”
Jay Smith, deputy director of legislative affairs for the Ohio School Boards Association, also testified on Oct. 2. He explained that nearly a third of the state’s 15,000 school bus drivers participated in the survey and indicated that the actual number of illegal passing violations a day could actually be 4,500 statewide.
“The number of vehicles illegally passing stopped school buses is a growing concern for all districts,” he added. “OSBA organized a bus passing survey for districts to record and report their incidents for one day this past March. The results from the 183 districts that returned the survey were staggering.”
The survey also found that 45 percent of the illegal passing incidents occurred in the morning and 52 percent occurred in the afternoon. Additionally, 73 percent of the violations were from oncoming vehicles.
Gregory Kelley, director of pupil transportation for Pickerington School District, told legislators that his operation conducted a 15-day count 2013 and recorded 88 illegal passing events.
“Less than 20 percent [of school bus drivers] could provide the complete information required to hold the motorist accountable,” he added.
Later that year, he said the nearby City of Lancaster implemented a stop-arm enforcement program and a civil code that only requires a license plate number be provided to law enforcement. Kelley was the transportation supervisor for Lancaster City Schools at the time, and he testified on Oct. 2 that program was in response to the difficulty in obtaining a ”sufficiently clear image” for prosecution, the sheer number of violations that occur each day, and to increase the program’s success rate.
”We identified several of our buses that experienced the highest violations whose route [was] mainly in the jurisdiction of the city. We then had them equipped with ‘stop-arm cameras,’” he explained. “The first year of existence enabled us to hold accountable 140 motorists who put children in danger. We also equipped other buses [that] traveled outside the jurisdiction for video capture but experienced the inability to get a good view of the operator. Other factors were adverse conditions, such as low light, heavy rainfall, etc.”
”That being said, they were very useful in documenting the number of events, location, time of day, general vehicle description, and plate numbers. In addition, a driver only had to focus on the description of the driver as the camera would capture the other legal information required,” Kelley continued.
Pickering City Schools, he shared, is currently submitting a limited amount of video evidence to the Ohio State Highway Patrol to corroborate the illegal passing incidents. Kelley added that the highway patrol has indicated to hi that the video evidence has expedited the process of issuing citations.
Gregory added that the district recently completed the installation of the DriveCam video system, which stores up to 100 hours of video.
”I’m sure it is much like our discipline officer being able to validate misbehavior on a school bus via video; a picture proves more valuable than words can say,” he concluded.
Fourth-grade student James Mahlman also testified about an illegal passer nearly hitting him the morning of Sept. 23.
The Ohio Association of School Business Officials, Ohio Education Association, Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, and Buckeye Association of School Administrators, also support the legislation.