PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A bill has been stalled for quite some time that could help catch drivers who illegally pass a stopped school bus.
It was reintroduced May 2015 after getting no movement the year before. House Bill 1249 allows for sensored cameras on school buses that would catch crucial information about the vehicle and driver that pass a stopped bus.
“If you pass a school bus that’s equipped with these cameras, there’s a sensor on each end of the bus, which will activate, when you come into that zone,” said State Rep. Dom Costa.
Costa is a co-sponsor of the bill.
Currently, school bus drivers are responsible for getting all the information on the vehicle and operator, while maintaining the safety of the children getting on and off the bus.
“We have to have a description of the vehicle, full tag, a description of the person and what they look like, while maintaining the safety of the children on the bus too,” Monark Operations Supervisor John Demkowicz said.
Even if bus drivers are able to supply enough information to local police, Rep. Costa said many times drivers are let off on a lesser penalty. The current punishment is a $250 fine, 60-day suspension and 5 points against a driver’s license. In some cases, that penalty is more severe than what a first time DUI offender may face.
Cynthia Johnson, a mother, said that something needs to change. In October, she was waiting with her daughter for the school bus along University Boulevard in Moon Township. Video cameras inside the bus captured a car speeding around the right side of the stopped bus, driving along the shoulder and almost hitting Johnson’s then 10-year-old daughter.
The video, however, was so poor that police had a tough time even determining a make and model of the vehicle. A license plate was far from visible. The driver remains unidentified.
“I thank God every day that a second was spared,” said Johnson. “If it had been a second earlier, she could have got hit because someone wasn’t paying attention and didn’t want to stop.”
In 2015, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) conducted a traffic study in 26 states throughout the country.
According to the study, 102,000 school bus drivers reported that 78,518 vehicles passed their buses illegally on a single day. Using that figure, the NASDPTS says in a school year that would result in more than 14 million violations by private motorists.
Monark bus driver Marci Vaccaro can attest to those numbers. She says everyday at least one driver, if not more, reports that a motorist passed a stopped school bus while children were getting on or off.
Under HB1249, Costa said the cameras are similar to red light cameras. The pictures or video would be admissible in court. The penalty is also more in line with similar offenses. Under the bill, the fine would remain $250, but there are no points against a license or suspension.
Still, the bill sits in the House Transportation Committee with no movement. It would need to get through the Transportation Committee before a House vote and a similar process in the Senate before final approval. Costa thinks because there’s already a current law in place, not to mention the previous budget stalemate, addressing the bill hasn’t been a priority.
Johnson is hoping that changes soon, believing that the cameras would act as a deterrent as well as catching the people who pass stopped buses.
“If the buses had better cameras and people knew that, they would be less likely to go around a school bus,” said Johnson. “My daughter’s life is worth more than your speeding to work or speeding to the coffee shop.”