WASHINGTON — As public school transportation safety concerns grow, federal officials are trying to establish legislation that would improve the safety of children riding the bus.
Earlier this month U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, co-sponsored the Stop for School Buses Act, a piece of legislation that aims to raise awareness about the importance of proper traffic behavior when driving near a school bus.
The bi-partisan bill, originally drafted by Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorski of Indiana, proposes the United States Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) compile information regarding illegal passing laws on a state-by-state basis. U.S. DOT would evaluate how to document and review levels of enforcement and the penalties attached to said laws.
After gathering said information, U.S. DOT would then be instructed to draft a set of driving tips and recommendations that would later be available on the federal department’s website, according to the piece of legislation.
The information gathering, according to the bill, would then be part of a public service campaign to raise awareness of the dangers and the potential hazards that illegally passing buses could bring up.
Additionally, the policy would instruct the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to review every two years all usage of various traffic technologies, such as enhanced lighting, bus arm cameras and audible warnings.
The review would aim to determine the effectiveness of those technologies based on all previously compiled information and registered traffic offenses.
Support for the bill, Brindisi said in a release, is inspired by Norwich City School District bus driver Samantha Call, who executed a heroic act when she saved a student from being hit by oncoming traffic. The amazing feat was recorded on video, which was later released by the school district.
“Every driver on the road has a responsibility to follow the law and exercise caution when a school bus is near,” the congressman, who has served as a school board member in the past, said. “Our kids’ lives depend on it.”
Brindisi met with Call earlier this week to recognize her work and praise her dedication.
“As a parent, I am incredibly grateful for dedicated professionals like Samantha Call who go above and beyond their job descriptions to keep our kids safe,” he said. “The Stop for School Buses Act is an important step to ensure everyone on the road shares the same responsibility for students’ safety.”
According to the National School Transportation Association (NSTA), an average of nine to 15 children are killed each year while boarding or exiting school buses near traffic, and a total of 15 million illegal passing incidents occur during every school year.
Local officials praised the bill, highlighting illegal bus passing as a “serious and dangerous problem” for school districts across the county.
“I think it is a great idea,” Oswego City School District Superintendent Dean Goewey said. “School bus safety has always been critically important to our district, but cars passing with their lights on and stop signs out is a very serious and dangerous problem for all of our districts.”
Central Square Central School District Superintendent Tom Colabufo said illegally passing buses is reaching critical levels, with at least one out of the district’s 100 bus drivers reporting an illegal pass daily.
Colabufo recounted an incident occurred on Monday when Central Square CSD Transportation Supervisor John Pierce recorded a speeding van drive by a school bus that had signaled a stop.
“We called the company, we spoke the manager, they knew exactly who the driver was and they disciplined him,” he said. “We take this very seriously.”
Colabufo said that while the buses for his district have cameras, a camera attached to the the stop sign retractable arm of the bus would be beneficial in order to be able to identify potential traffic infractors.