A.G. Investigation Found Nearly 1,500 Red Light Camera Violations By Westchester And Suffolk County School Bus Companies – Yet Bus Companies Have No Legal Obligation To Report Them.
New York, NY - October 17, 2017 - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced today that an investigation by his office into school bus safety identified nearly 1,500 red light camera violations by school bus companies in Westchester and Suffolk Counties – highlighting a serious gap in State laws that are meant to ensure the safety of over 2.3 million New York children who ride school buses every day.
Today, during National School Bus Safety Week, Attorney General Schneiderman released a new report: “Wrong on Red: Report on School Bus Traffic Light Violations”. The report details the findings of his investigation and calls for changes to state law to close the safety loophole by requiring bus companies to report red light camera violations to the state and school districts, and use those violations in their assessments of drivers.
“Every morning, more than two million New York children are put on school buses by families that trust they’ll be safe. Unfortunately, New York law has a safety loophole big enough to drive a school bus through,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Bus companies can rack up red light camera violations – yet have no legal obligation to report them to the state, or even use them as part of their evaluation of drivers. It’s time for action to protect our kids by requiring bus companies to report red light violations to the state and the school districts they serve, and to use those violations in driver evaluations. We must crack down on the problem now, before it turns tragic.”
The Attorney General’s office collected and analyzed data from 15 randomly selected school bus companies operating in Westchester and Suffolk counties. The investigation found that in Westchester County, in 2016 alone, the sampling of school bus companies subpoenaed by the Attorney General received almost 300 red light camera ticket violations. In Suffolk County, the subpoenaed companies received nearly 1,200 red light camera ticket violations from 2014 through 2016. Under existing State Law, these violations are not required to be reported to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles as part of the State’s oversight of school bus company safety.
The State’s Vehicle and Traffic Law (Article 19-a) provides State oversight of school bus companies, yet it does not require school bus companies to report any information relating to tickets issued for red light camera violations. The law states that upon request by the DMV, school bus companies are required to submit driving reports that include miles traveled, convictions and accidents, and the number of convictions and accidents per ten thousand miles traveled; however, that does not include red light camera tickets. School bus companies are also required to review employees' driving records at least once every 12 months, and consider any evidence that the bus driver violated applicable provisions of the vehicle and traffic law. Yet again, this language does not mandate that school bus companies report red light camera tickets to the DMV. Under existing law, a bus driver can receive an infinite number of red light camera tickets and remain as a school bus driver.
Red light cameras are intended to capture offenses not witnessed by a police officer. Since it’s often too hard to prove who was driving the vehicle, the owner of the vehicle is assessed the fine from a red light camera violation. If a school bus driver got three red light tickets from a police officer within an 18-month period, they would get nine points on their driver’s license and be disqualified from driving a school bus for a year. However, if that same driver got three red light camera tickets in the same timeframe, there would be no repercussions – since the tickets are sent directly to the bus company.
This loophole means it is unlikely that drivers or bus companies face any real repercussions for running red lights – as companies can shield themselves and their drivers from liability by not reporting red light violations to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
As part of this investigation, Attorney General Schneiderman subpoenaed nine school bus companies in Suffolk County and six bus companies in Westchester County.
Between 2014 to 2016, the nine Suffolk bus companies amassed 1,199 red light tickets, including 368 in 2014, 409 in 2015, and 422 in 2016. Within those nine companies, there were 154 bus drivers who were repeat offenders.
In 2016, the six Westchester County companies amassed 296 red light tickets, with 20 drivers who were repeat offenders.
There are, on average, 115 fatal crashes involving school buses every year across the country, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s 2017 Report on School Safety. Fortunately, school bus crashes make up a low percentage of all fatal motor vehicle crashes because of protections already in place, such as licensing, training, vehicle standards, and vehicle inspections. However, by failing to include red light camera tickets as part of a school bus company’s driving history, school children are unnecessarily put at risk.
In calling for this safety loophole to be closed, Attorney General Schneiderman is proposing the following changes in state law:
School bus companies should be required by law to maintain copies of all red light camera violations received by the school bus companies and its school bus drivers.
School bus companies should be required by law to report the number of red light camera violations in the annual affidavit of compliance filed with the DMV.
School bus companies should be required by law to consider red light camera violations in its annual assessment of its drivers; and drivers who accumulate three red light camera violations should be disqualified from driving for a one-year period.
School bus companies should be required by law to provide an annual report to the school districts that they service of their driver’s records, including a record of the red light camera violations issued and who was driving.
The matter was handled by Suffolk Regional Office Head Assistant Attorney General Kim Kinirons, Westchester Regional Office Head Assistant Attorney General Gary Brown, and Assistant Attorneys General Rachael Anello and Jennifer Gashi, under the supervision of Executive Deputy Attorney General for Regional Offices Marty Mack.
“As a father, I wanted to know when I sent my children off to school in the morning, they were safe and secure on the bus. We can never be too careful when it comes to our children’s safety, but the Attorney General’s investigation into school bus driving records indicates additional steps need to be taken at the state level to ensure that safety. I applaud his efforts to require the consideration of red light camera violations in assessing the safety record school bus drivers and school bus companies,” said Congressman Eliot Engel.
“The Department of Motor Vehicles oversees the conduct of school bus drivers, but under existing law, school bus companies don’t have to report red light camera violations to the DMV,” said Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “I support the Attorney General’s proposal to require school bus companies to submit this data, as it will make travel safer for everyone on the road.”
“I have been working on bus safety for years by going after those who would pass a stopped school bus. Nothing is more important than the safety of our children. This bill is an equally important measure as we should only be entrusting our children to the safest bus drivers,” said Senator George Latimer.
“Parents who put their children on school buses in the morning have to trust that safety is the overarching concern of bus operators,” said Assemblyman David Buchwald (D-White Plains). “I support Attorney General Schneiderman's proposal to ensure that red light camera violations are incorporated into school bus operator safety reports.”
“I thank Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for identifying and seeking to address a crucial gap in our school bus safety. When parents send their children to school on the bus, they should not have to worry that the driver has unidentified traffic violations. I look forward to working with the Attorney General and all appropriate stakeholders as we seek to improve bus safety for our children and traffic safety for the community,” said Assemblymember Shelley Mayer.
“Over 600 school buses travel Yonkers roads each day,” said Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano. “The safety of the children in those buses along with the safety of our residents is paramount and I applaud the Attorney General for taking steps to further hold those accountable who fail to adhere to the laws of our roadways.”
“There is no higher priority than our children’s safety, so I applaud the Attorney General for identifying a gap in school bus reporting requirements and for his efforts to ensure that future safety reviews utilize all available data,” said New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson.
“Passenger and pedestrian safety is of utmost importance to us in Suffolk County, and this investigation will play a critical role in holding individuals accountable for their actions on our roads,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “I commend the Attorney General for his emphatic action and look forward to continuing to work with his office to strengthen public safety regulations for the protection of our children.”
“School buses transport our most precious cargo – our children. Anything we can do to ensure them a safer trip must be a priority,” said Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory. “I thank the Attorney General for his diligence and efforts in identifying and remedying this gap in safety standards.”
“Each day our students travel to school, on foot, by bike, by car and some by bus. We trust that our bus drivers and the companies that they work for are as concerned with safety as we as parents are. We on the PTA welcome the opportunity to work alongside Attorney General Schneiderman to implement fair and workable safety measures realizing that we are all stakeholders when it comes to our children,” said Julia Ochs, Co-President of the New Rochelle PTA Council.
“Safety is our top priority. Keeping our kids safe is paramount. We look forward to a change in policy and applaud the AG in his efforts,” said Sally Pinto, President of Yonkers council of PTA/PTSAs.