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Editorial: School bus roulette

Niagara Falls' school superintendent hit the nail on the head: “This has got to stop.”

If it doesn’t, a student will be injured or killed. The only questions are when and where.

The problem is reckless drivers who think, somehow, they are above the law and illegally pass stopped school buses whose red lights are flashing. Why does this even have to be said?

But, alas, it needs to be said – and ticketed. According to Niagara Falls school officials, no less than 20 vehicles passed stopped buses in the first week of a pilot program in which cameras were installed on just two buses. Twenty vehicles. No vehicles should blow by stopped school buses. Ever.

It wasn’t until Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation allowing cameras on buses to record passing drivers that violators risked being caught by technology. State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, sponsored the legislation.

Before that, drivers illegally passing buses displaying a red signal could be issued a ticket only by a police officer who witnessed the violation. In this case, the surveillance state works.

The Niagara Falls School District has been provided cameras for free by BusPatrol America, which operates similar programs in six other states.

Although each camera system, including seven cameras, costs about $10,000, as David Poirier, president of BusPatrol America said, the district pays nothing for the cameras, or the company’s review of the video recordings. Instead, the company is compensated through the $250 civil fines levied on violators.

The fines are too low. So are the $300 fines for three or more infractions. Anyone willing to put children’s lives at risk because they are late for an appointment, or just lacking patience to wait, should face higher penalties. Make drivers think twice before stepping on the gas and maneuvering a two-ton vehicle around someone’s kid.

The pilot program recently started on two Niagara Falls Coach Lines buses with busier routes, according to Laurie. The company transports approximately 5,000 students with about 80 buses every day, while First Student carries about 200 students to areas out of the city.

No tickets have been issued in Niagara Falls. It is still a “pilot” program. The city has yet to adopt an ordinance and would have to negotiate with the camera company on its cut of the fine.

But Laurie is ready to launch, moving from pilot to full implementation. The city should move swiftly on this and, given that there is no reason to believe this recklessness is confined to Niagara Falls, other school districts and municipalities should be looking to join in.

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