October 21, 2021

School bus safety a priority for law enforcement

Todd R. McAdam/contributing photographer

A Cortland County sheriff’s officer follows a Homer Central School District bus in this March 2019 Cortland Standard file photo.

Wednesday morning, parents waiting with their kids at the bus stops in Homer and Cortlandville noticed a sheriff’s officer trailing a bus. Another followed it that afternoon. And again Thursday morning.

It was no accident; it was a message.

“We want to send a message that we’re out here,” Cortland County Sheriff’s Capt. Rob Derksen said this week.

The effort follows a string of incidents across the nation and state involving buses, including an incident in Oneida County where a child was struck by a car that had passed a stopped school bus. The patrols pre-date and are unrelated to a collision Thursday between a car and a bus on Route 41 in Homer.

School bus safety tips

• Remember buses make frequent stops. Be prepared to stop for them.
• Never pass a stopped school bus with its red or yellow lights flashing
• Watch for children who cross in front of the bus when the bus is stopped.
• Look for children at bus stops and those running to bus stops.
• School buses must stop at railroad crossings. Be patient.
SOURCE: Cortland County Sheriff’s Department

Derksen said that while the department hasn’t had to handle many issues with bus stops, the county has some trouble spots — many of them are multi-lane highways where people don’t realize they have to stop even if they are in an opposing lane.

Highland Road in Cortlandville, which sends its kids to Homer schools, was another, as is the area near Route 13 and Penguin Trailer Park.

He also noted the department has complaints about drivers passing buses when the bus stops at a railroad crossing, which by law the bus driver must do.

“You should never pass a school bus for any reason unless the school bus pulls over and acknowledges you to let you know it’s safe to pass,” he said.

Cortland police Lt. David Guerrera said the department doesn’t often receive complaints regarding bus safety. However, he noted the sheriff’s office did let the department know a car passed another car and bus stopped earlier this week on Clinton Avenue north of Interstate 81.

“Two to three times a month, we’ll get a complaint from the parents, school bus drivers or neighbors who see it happening,” he said.

When complaints come in, Cortland police will either follow the bus or sit in the neighborhood where the bus runs, Guerrera said.

Complaints frequently come into the department regarding people not stopping for buses on Tompkins, Port Watson and Church streets.

“Those are our three chronic locations,” he said.

During Operation Safe Stop in March 2018, 850 people across the state were ticketed for ignoring school bus safety laws, according to a news release from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

Jeff Delia, the Homer School District transportation supervisor, said the district has trouble in some areas, including routes along Highland Road, Route 13 coming form Truxton, Kinney Gulf Road and Route 222. He noted Route 13 from Truxton can be especially bad.

“They think that’s a race track,” he said.

Cuomo announced in January a proposal for the 2020 budget to authorize school districts to install stop-arm cameras to photograph drivers passing buses and require students to wear seatbelts. Delia said Homer School District doesn’t have stop-arm cameras.

“You can get them but there’s no law saying it can be used in court,” he said.

Sixteen of 28 Homer buses have a windshield camera, which Delia said can help, but sometimes drivers speed by so fast, the camera cannot catch the license plate.

“When they’re going through they are really going through,” he said. “They just barrel on by us.”