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Editorial: Legalizing school bus cameras will save lives

The long arm of the law now has a camera attached to it.

Drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses can be caught on stop arm cameras attached to the buses, thanks to legislation signed this week by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

This is a welcome law, with little downside. Our only objection: Why are the fines so small?

Motorists who fail to stop when a school bus has its red lights on would be fined $250 for the first offense, rising to $300 apiece for three or more infractions. Drivers would not be charged with a moving violation; no points would be attached to their license. Three-figure fines are not trivial, but as a punishment they don’t fit the crime.

When the bill passed the Legislature in May, the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee cited a study by the New York State Association of Pupil Transportation that found in 2018 an estimated 50,000 drivers in the state illegally passed stopped school buses every day.

How is it not a moving violation to drive past a bus that is loading or unloading school children? They are a vulnerable population, one that must be protected with zero tolerance for reckless drivers.

It's useful to compare the school bus penalties to some other fines for vehicle-related violations in New York State:

• Running a red light or stop sign: $50 to $100, plus three points on the driver’s license.

• Making a false statement to obtain a parking permit for a person with a disability: $250 to $1,000.

• Conviction for using a cellphone or other mobile device while driving: First offense $50 to $200; second offense $50 to $250; third offense $50 to $450.

Texting while driving is dangerous and potentially deadly, but passing a school bus with its red light on can be just as lethal.

The fines can be revisited if they prove to be insufficient in deterring violators. The important thing is that scofflaws will be caught.

The cameras would sit on the arm that swings out when a school bus stops to pick up or drop off students. Images of drivers who fail to stop would be sent to local law enforcement for prosecution.

School districts have to opt in to the program, then pass a resolution giving the local municipality authorization to enter into a camera contract.

Financial considerations should not deter the districts. The companies making the cameras would be likely to provide the equipment at little or no cost in exchange for a cut of the revenue from fines.

State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, sponsored the legislation in his chamber. For that he can take a bow. It’s impossible to know how many lives the law will save, but even one will make it worthwhile.

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