October 20, 2021

Legislature urged to install school bus cameras

The Marathon superintendent of schools urged the Cortland County Legislature to approve a plan Thursday night that would install cameras on school buses to catch, and fine, owners of vehicles that fail to halt for stopped buses.

The county Legislature voted after a public hearing, 13-3, to send the measure back to the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee for reconsideration. Legislators Paul Heider (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton), Beau Harbin (D-Cortland) and Ronald Van Dee (D-Cortland) voted no. Legislator Sandy Price (D-Harford, Virgil) was absent.

“We’ve had several people pass school buses 32 this past year,” said Rebecca Stone, superintendent of the Marathon Central School District, during the public hearing. “Last year, someone passed on the right-hand side and almost killed a student.”

The state authorized a pilot program allowing counties to operate programs and issue penalties that the county was considering, according to the proposed law.

The Marathon School District has cameras on its buses that can take pictures of license plates, Stone said.

But the bus driver is responsible for filing an affidavit and contacting the police.

Marathon was the only district to have representation at the legislature meeting.

Local Law C would require individual school districts to enter into agreements with the county to place additional cameras, funded by the county and at no cost to school districts, on the outside of their buses, the law states.

The county will receive the financial penalties but the violation will not count as a motor vehicle law conviction for the owner or be used by insurance companies relevant to vehicle insurance coverage.

Exceptions would be in cases when the driver is convicted of passing the stopped school bus, if the vehicle had previously been reported stolen or the vehicle was owned by a company that had leased it to an individual.

The cost and a timeline were not discussed for initiating the program.

“If the person was not driving the car or the person does not admit to passing the bus, nothing can be done,” Stone said. “The new system would provide good footage and video of the car and the ticket would go to the owner of the vehicle.”

The proposed law would remove responsibility from the bus drivers and the school districts and allow bus drivers to do their jobs more efficiently, Stone said.

The owner of a vehicle passing a bus that has its red lights flashing and warning sign arm extended will be issued a fine of $250 for a first offense; $275 for a second within 18 months of the first offense and $300 for a third within 18 months of the first offense.

“I really hope this is something you consider,” Stone said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct and reflect the nature of the Legislature’s vote on the resolution.