BOSTON (SHNS) – Over the course of a one-year study, researchers found more than 300 incidents in Medford and Quincy alone of vehicles illegally driving past school buses that were displaying stop signs, according to Rep. Paul Donato.
That was in 2011. Bills have been filed every session since then that would empower every community to install similar video cameras — and to punish violations they record — but the Legislature has yet to pass any into law, prompting Donato and other supporters to renew their support Tuesday.
“We find ourselves in a position where our children are jeopardized by that vehicle traffic,” Donato said.
Several bills are once again before the Joint Committee on Transportation to permit installation of bus stop cameras, including one filed by Donato (H 2998). Police would then review potential violations and determine if civil citations are warranted, though any punishment would not be surchargeable for insurance purposes.
In both the 2013-14 and 2015-16 sessions, the committee favorably reported similar legislation penned by its House chair, Rep. William Straus. Last year, it folded other proposals into Straus’ bill and again advanced it, but for the third straight session, the matter died in the House Ways and Means Committee.
Advocates of the legislation urged lawmakers Tuesday to continue the push, warning that children’s lives are at risk because of inaction.
“This is a serious problem,” said David Strong, president of the School Transportation Association of Massachusetts. “It always has been, but every year it gets worse.”
Between 2006 and 2015, 102 minors under 18 were killed on foot in crashes involving buses or other school transportation, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The risks appear to be widespread. In a 2017 report, bus drivers in 29 states recorded the number of times that vehicles passed their vehicles while stopped with flashing red lights and stop signs visible over the course of a single day.
More than 77,000 incidents were detected on that one day alone, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services said, hinting that as many as 14 million potential violations could happen nationwide each year.
David Poirier, president of the Bus Patrol America company that contracts with public entities to install safety technology on buses, described the frequency of incidents as “a national crisis.”
“Motorists don’t pass school buses because they fail to see the big yellow bus with all the flashing red lights and the stop sign sticking out of it,” he said. “They pass the school buses because they don’t think they will get caught.”
Supporters say using technology is a more viable way to crack down on dangerous violations than police patrols, which cannot possibly cover every bus stop every day, or crossing officers on buses.
Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, who has pushed for the legislation in several sessions, told the committee she is confident it can pass this time around because concerns over driver privacy and custody of the video were resolved in previous efforts.
Under most of the legislation currently filed, photographs of the front of a vehicle or of the driver would not be saved.
“I believe we’re at a point where we’re ready to move forward on this,” Campbell said.
Sixteen states have laws in place allowing municipalities or districts to install cameras as a way to track for drivers who pass stopped school buses, as the National Conference of State Legislatures highlighted in a December report.