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Legislators should extend school safety measures to cameras on bus-stop arms | Editorial

Photo: Taimy Alvarez, Sun Sentinel (2012)

School is back in session, and more buses are clogging up Central Florida’s already crowded roads.

Anyone who has the misfortune of finding themselves on the road before and after the school bell rings understands how maddening it can be when buses slow your already long commute.

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You know what’s more maddening? The apathy toward keeping kids safe when loading and unloading buses.

Every year, kids are injured or killed by drivers who are too impatient, distracted or ignorant of the rules about bus stop safety. They blow past a stopped school bus while kids get on and off, sometimes with terrible consequences.

To get a snapshot, bus drivers across the country are asked to take part in a survey where they track in a single day the number of times vehicles violate school bus traffic rules.

According to the 2019 report from National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, some 10,000 Florida bus drivers saw at least 13,640 cars drivers zip past buses as kids tried to get on and off in one day, despite the red stop sign and flashing lights that extend from the arm of the bus. The actual number of impatient drivers could be higher.

The numbers fluctuate each year based on the number of bus drivers who participate in the survey, the but the average amount of violators tracked on a single day is a five-digit number.

That’s way too high.

Florida legislators can take action to curb this number by simply authorizing school districts to use cameras outside of the bus to catch offenders. This information would be turned over to law enforcement agencies, which could then issue citations.

Lawmakers should have moved on this after the tragedies of last fall when 14 students and two adults were killed or injured from Oct. 26 through Nov. 1 during bus stop accidents in Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Florida.

In Tampa, five children were injured last year when a car plowed into them at a bus stop. Thankfully, no one was killed.

Donald Mair’s daughter was not spared on that fateful June day in DeBary nine years ago. Gabby, who was 12, was struck and killed near her bus stop as she attempted to cross the street.

Mair has campaigned for stronger laws to protect kids at and near bus stops since 2013. Every year, legislators fail to act, and this year was no different.

Rep. Emily Slosberg from South Florida sponsored a bill earlier this year authorizing school districts to install cameras on buses to capture images of cars passing illegally.

The bill died in a subcommittee.

A representative from Slosberg’s office said she plans to refile this bill again, with some adjustments, during the 2020 legislative session next January.

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That would sound promising if previous bills related buses and cameras haven’t failed in the past.

Somehow, other states have managed to respond to last year’s tragic week with laws to add cameras outside of buses to catch offenders.

Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that allows schools to install bus stop arm cameras and for law enforcement agencies to use the footage to cite offenders. A driver who is caught illegally passing a bus for the first time faces a ticket ranging anywhere from $250 to $400. The price escalates for repeat offenders.

Virginia was ahead on this issue, passing camera laws for bus stop arms in 2016 under Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Law enforcement agencies originally pushed back because citations would previously have to be hand-delivered, but McAuliffe changed the wording to allow for citations to be mailed.

Idaho’s governor signed a bill in March to increase penalties for drivers failing to halt for bus stop arms.

A Kentucky lawmaker is pushing for schools to outfit all of the state’s buses with stop arm cameras by 2023.

And Florida is doing nothing.

This isn’t complicated politics here. Giving school districts the authority to use camera footage for law enforcement agencies to protect children getting on and off of buses is common sense.

If we can fine drivers for texting and driving, then why haven’t we made it a priority to stop drivers from running into kids at bus stops?

Buses already have cameras inside of the vehicle to monitor drivers and students. But a real and unpredictable danger for kids happens when they get off the bus.

Florida needs empower school districts who want to improve the safety of their kids riding buses with the ability to do so.

If only legislators could be as impatient for change as some drivers are to get to their destinations.

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