AG Schneiderman Announces Major Investigation into NYC School Bus Safety
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)