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South Colonie CSD rolls out new stop-arm cameras on school buses

As kids head back to classrooms in New York, the South Colonie Central School District in Albany County is rolling out new cameras on the stop-arms of school buses to catch motorists who pass illegally.

Under New York law, it is illegal for drivers to pass a school bus while it is stopped with its lights on to drop off or pick up students. The law applies to drivers traveling in both directions. The goal is to protect passengers who may be crossing in front of the bus and crossing the road.

South Colonie Superintendent Dr. David Perry says it reminds drivers when the stop arm is out, they need to stop in all directions.

“The goal is to provide safe passage for our students. So, we feel that providing this opportunity to partner with (Albany) County will go a long way in bettering the safety of our drivers, and of course, our most precious commodity of our students.”

The new cameras follow the passage of a 2019 law signed by former Governor Andrew Cuomo that allows school districts to install stop-arm video cameras and also empowers them to ticket drivers flouting the law.

The cameras automatically catch drivers passing illegally and drivers are then sent a ticket in the mail, similar to red light cameras. Data from the National Conference of State Legislatures shows at least 23 other states have passed similar laws.

First offenders face a fine between $250 to $400. Repeat offenders within a three-year period face higher fines up to a maximum of $1,000. According to the DMV, if you are convicted of three such violations in three years, your driver’s license will be revoked for a minimum of six months. Five points are also added to the driver’s record per violation.

The state Education Department and the Department of Pupil Transportation say children ages 4 to 8, or grades K through 3, are most susceptible to school bus fatality. That group represents about 7 in 10 annual school bus fatalities, or 79 out of 114 deaths.

New York Association for Pupil Transportation Executive Director David Christopher says surveys estimate there are more than 50,000 illegal passes per day in New York.

“And that's just unacceptable because every pass, every illegal pass, is a threat to a student who's boarding or disembarking a bus and with excellent driver training in place and excellent technology, such as what Peter just explained to you, this new technology, the stop-arm camera technology, will further enhance the safety of children riding school buses to-and-from school.”

At South Colonie’s bus garage Tuesday, workers were in the process of installing the cameras on buses in preparation for the first day of school the next day. One worker demonstrated how the cameras will work.

“So, this box right here it's called the license plate box. It has a camera facing forward and facing to the rear. When the car passes the bus, it will snap a picture of the license plate. And then we also have this camera here (on the stop sign) because our smart camera goes right above it. It will have a built in algorithm. Once the red lights come on (and the stop sign extends outward), this camera turns, of course, and it will capture any car that passes the bus illegally.”

New flashing L-E-D lights on the stop sign have also been installed on the buses. The new lights are much brighter than the previous flashing red lights, potentially raising concerns for people with photosensitivity, like Epilepsy, especially in the darker winter months. Christopher says it is a concern they’ve heard throughout the years.

“The lights are all now LE- type lights. They're very bright. I suppose that it's possible out there somewhere, but we've never had an instance where we've heard that from a statewide level.”

The school’s website says it is the first district in the Capital Region to install the cameras. Districts are reimbursed for installation costs and revenue from the tickets goes to the village, town or county in which the violation occurs.