Go back to school safely

Summer will soon turn to fall and along with the change of season will come a change in lifestyle for our young people as school bells ring once again. For many students it is a return to a familiar routine, but for some it is the start of a whole new world. For all of us, it is a time to think of safety first.

In New York State, approximately 50,000 drivers illegally pass a school bus every day. This illegal practice endangers the lives of children trying to get to and from school – and it must be stopped.

In order to combat this dangerous and illegal behavior, New York has instituted Operation Safe Stop. The cooperative project is supported by the New York State Governor's Traffic Safety Committee, the New York State Education Department, the New York Association for Pupil Transportation, the New York State School Bus Contractors Association, the student transportation industry and state, county, city and local law enforcement agencies. Their mission is to promote school bus safety through education enforcement efforts.

The first thing a motorist needs to know is the law itself, which can vary a bit from state to state. In New York the law states:

Drivers must stop when the school bus red lights are flashing;

Even on divided, multilane highways or school grounds, drivers are required to stop for flashing red lights;

Penalties for illegally passing a school bus range from $250 - $1,000 fines, points on your license, and/or possible imprisonment.

That final point is one that needs to be addressed further. The penalties for illegally passing a school bus are simply too light.

Current law provides that an individual convicted two or more times of speeding in a construction zone be subject to a sixty day suspension of his or her drivers' license. Passing a stopped school bus two or more times however, does not currently carry such a penalty. There is no doubt that passing a stopped school bus possesses as much, if not more, risk to life and limb as speeding in a construction zone and should carry appropriate penalties.

The state senate has overwhelmingly passed legislation (S.1878) I strongly support that would increase penalties for illegally passing a stopped school bus. If enacted, the penalties for passing a stopped school bus and speeding in a construction zone would be the same. The senate has passed this bill on multiple occasions, but the state assembly has failed to take action.

A similar bill (S.1064) that would increase the fines for passing a stopped school bus has also received senate approval on multiple occasions. Again, the assembly has not even brought the bill forward for consideration.

My senate colleagues and I passed several other measures aimed at keeping children safe - one that would increase penalties for people convicted of selling drugs in playgrounds and parks, and another that would thwart inappropriate relationships between school employees and students.

New York State has consistently recognized that drug dealers who target children are especially dangerous to society. The effort began with our “Drugs in School Law” which targeted those who sell drugs on or near school grounds. This law was later expanded to include child day care and other educational facilities. Amending the law (S.2173A) to add public parks and playgrounds makes sense and would help ensure that drug dealers who prey upon our most vulnerable are punished appropriately.

One final bill (S.1358) would make it a crime for any school employee or volunteer to have sexual contact with a student, even if that student is at the age of consent.

Like the bus safety bills, these measures are designed to protect school students and appropriately punish those who do them harm. And again, the state assembly did not bring them up for a vote.

Senator Seward’s office web site is www.senatorjimseward.com. Like Senator Seward at www.facebook.com/senatorjimseward.

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