AG Sch­nei­der­man An­nounces Ma­jor In­ves­ti­ga­tion into NYC School Bus Safety

The Jewish Voice - - NEW YORK - By Sam Stein

On Tues­day, Oc­to­ber 17, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric T. Sch­nei­der­man an­nounced that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by his offic into school bus safety iden­ti­fied nearly 1,500 red-light cam­era vi­o­la­tions by school bus com­pa­nies in Westch­ester and Suf­folk Coun­ties – high­light­ing a se­ri­ous gap in State laws that are meant to en­sure the safety of over 2.3 mil­lion New York chil­dren who ride school buses every day.

Sch­nei­der­man re­leased a new report, “Wrong on Red: Report on School Bus Traffi Light Vi­o­la­tions,” on Tues­day dur­ing Na­tional School Bus Safety Week. The report de­tails the findi gs of his in­ves­ti­ga­tion and calls for changes to state law to close the safety loop­hole by re­quir­ing bus com­pa­nies to report red light cam­era vi­o­la­tions to the state and school dis­tricts, and use those vi­o­la­tions in their as­sess­ments of driv­ers.

“Every morn­ing, more than two mil­lion New York chil­dren are put on school buses by fam­i­lies that trust they’ll be safe. Un­for­tu­nately, New York law has a safety loop­hole big enough to drive a school bus through,” said Sch­nei­der­man. “Bus com­pa­nies can rack up red light cam­era vi­o­la­tions – yet have no le­gal obli­ga­tion to report them to the state, or even use them as part of their eval­u­a­tion of driv­ers. It’s time for ac­tion to pro­tect our kids by re­quir­ing bus com­pa­nies to report red light vi­o­la­tions to the state and the school dis­tricts they serve, and to use those vi­o­la­tions in driver eval­u­a­tions. We must crack down on the prob­lem now, be­fore it turns tragic.”

The At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s offi col­lected and an­a­lyzed data from 15 ran­domly se­lected school bus com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing in Westch­ester and Suf­folk coun­ties. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that in Westch­ester County, in 2016 alone, the sam­pling of school bus com­pa­nies sub­poe­naed by the At­tor­ney Gen­eral re­ceived al­most 300 red light cam­era ticket vi­o­la­tions. In Suf­folk County, the sub­poe­naed com­pa­nies re­ceived nearly 1,200 red light cam­era ticket vi­o­la­tions from 2014 through 2016. Un­der ex­ist­ing State Law, these vi­o­la­tions are not re­quired to be re­ported to the New York State Depart­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles as part of the State’s over­sight of school bus com­pany safety.

The State’s Ve­hi­cle and Traf­fic Law (Ar­ti­cle 19-a) pro­vides State over­sight of school bus com­pa­nies, yet it does not re­quire school bus com­pa­nies to report any in­for­ma­tion re­lat­ing to tick­ets is­sued for red light cam­era vi­o­la­tions. The law states that upon re­quest by the DMV, school bus com­pa­nies are re­quired to sub­mit driv­ing re­ports that in­clude miles trav­eled, con­vic­tions and ac­ci­dents, and the num­ber of con­vic­tions and ac­ci­dents per ten thou­sand miles trav­eled; how­ever, that does not in­clude red light cam­era tick­ets. School bus com­pa­nies are also re­quired to re­view em­ploy­ees' driv­ing records at least once every 12 months, and con­sider any ev­i­dence that the bus driver vi­o­lated ap­pli­ca­ble pro­vi­sions of the ve­hi­cle and traffi law. Yet again, this lan­guage does not man­date that school bus com­pa­nies report red light cam­era tick­ets to the DMV. Un­der ex­ist­ing law, a bus driver can re­ceive an in­fin te num­ber of red light cam­era tick­ets and re­main as a school bus driver.

Red light cam­eras are in­tended to cap­ture of­fenses not wit­nessed by a po­lice offic . Since it’s of­ten too hard to prove who was driv­ing the ve­hi­cle, the owner of the ve­hi­cle is as­sessed the fine from a red-light cam­era vi­o­la­tion. If a school bus driver got three red light tick­ets from a po­lice of­fice within an 18-month pe­riod, they would get nine points on their driver’s li­cense and be dis­qual­i­fied from driv­ing a school bus for a year. How­ever, if that same driver got three red light cam­era tick­ets in the same time­frame, there would be no reper­cus­sions – since the tick­ets are sent di­rectly to the bus com­pany.

This loop­hole means it is un­likely that driv­ers or bus com­pa­nies face any real reper­cus­sions for run­ning red lights – as com­pa­nies can shield them­selves and their driv­ers from li­a­bil­ity by not re­port­ing red light vi­o­la­tions to the Depart­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles.

As part of this in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Sch­nei­der­man sub­poe­naed eight school bus com­pa­nies in Suf­folk County and six bus com­pa­nies in Westch­ester County.

Be­tween 2014 to 2016, the eight Suf­folk bus com­pa­nies amassed 1,199 red light tick­ets, in­clud­ing 368 in 2014, 409 in 2015, and 422 in 2016. Within those eight com­pa­nies, there were 154 bus driv­ers who were re­peat of­fend­ers.

In 2016, the six Westch­ester County com­pa­nies amassed 296 red light tick­ets, with 20 driv­ers who were re­peat of­fend­ers.

The e are, on av­er­age, 115 fa­tal crashes in­volv­ing school buses every year across the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Govern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Offi ’s 2017 Report on School Safety. For­tu­nately, school bus crashes make up a low per­cent­age of all fa­tal mo­tor ve­hi­cle crashes be­cause of pro­tec­tions al­ready in place, such as li­cens­ing, train­ing, ve­hi­cle stan­dards, and ve­hi­cle in­spec­tions. How­ever, by fail­ing to in­clude red light cam­era tick­ets as part of a school bus com­pany’s driv­ing his­tory, school chil­dren are un­nec­es­sar­ily put at risk.

In call­ing for this safety loop­hole to be closed, Sch­nei­der­man is propos­ing the fol­low­ing changes in state law:

• School bus com­pa­nies should be re­quired by law to main­tain copies of all red-light cam­era vi­o­la­tions re­ceived by the school bus com­pa­nies and its school bus driv­ers.

• School bus com­pa­nies should be re­quired by law to report the num­ber of red light cam­era vi­o­la­tions in the an­nual af­fi­davit of com­pli­ance file with the DMV.

• School bus com­pa­nies should be re­quired by law to con­sider red light cam­era vi­o­la­tions in its an­nual assess­ment of its driv­ers; and driv­ers who ac­cu­mu­late three red light cam­era vi­o­la­tions should be dis­qual­i­fied from driv­ing for a one-year pe­riod.

• School bus com­pa­nies should be re­quired by law to pro­vide an an­nual report to the school dis­tricts that they ser­vice of their driver’s records, in­clud­ing a record of the red-light cam­era vi­o­la­tions is­sued and who was driv­ing.

A red-light cam­era photo taken on Novem­ber 15, 2016 at 7:19am in Is­lan­dia at the in­ter­sec­tion of Old Ni­chols Rd and the Long Is­land Ex­press­way. (Photo cour­tesy of the Of­fice of the AG Eric Sch­nei­der­man)

A red-light cam­era photo taken on March 11, 2016 at 2:56pm in Yonkers at the in­ter­sec­tion of Cen­tral Park Ave and Ar­ling­ton St. (Photo cour­tesy of the Of­fice of the AG Eric Sch­nei­der­man)

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