Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Troy Singleton, Benjie Wimberly, Nicholas Chiaravalloti and Raj Mukherji instituting a school bus monitoring system to crack down on drivers trying to illegally pass buses gained final legislative approval from the General Assembly on Monday.
"We have all at some point witnessed an impatient driver rush past a school bus that was stopped to pick up or drop off a child. These drivers are not only breaking the law, they are endangering the lives of children," said Singleton (D-Burlington). "Allowing districts to install monitoring systems in buses can help deter this reckless conduct by capturing these infractions on video."
"These offenders are flagrantly violating a law that is meant to protect children," said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). "Part of the problem is they think they can get away with it. Installing this technology can help enforce the current law and discourage this dangerous behavior by catching people in the act."
The bill (A-3798) would authorize the use of a school bus monitoring system to enforce the state law governing passing a school bus. A school bus monitoring system is defined as a system meeting certain requirements set forth in the bill and having at least one camera and computer that captures and records a digital video or image of any motor vehicle operating near a school bus.
"We've heard far too many stories about tragedies and close calls when it comes to school bus safety," said Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson). "Allowing school districts and local law enforcement to utilize safety cameras will help deter dangerous driving and ultimately help keep our children safe when loading and unloading from their buses."
"Despite this law being on our books for decades, more than 1,600 violation notices were issued to drivers last year for failing to stop for a school bus," said Mukherji (D-Hudson). "It's clear that we need to do more to step up enforcement in order to prevent future tragedies and provide peace of mind for parents, as well."
Under current law, school buses are required to exhibit flashing red lights when the bus has stopped to receive or discharge any person with a developmental disability or child. Drivers of vehicles approaching the school bus are required to stop at least 25 feet from a school bus that has activated its flashing lights. The law also provides that the bus driver not start the bus or discontinue the flashing lights until every person who has alighted from the bus has reached a place of safety.
The penalty for violating this law, for a first offense, is (1) a fine of no less than $100 (2) imprisonment for no more than 15 days or community service; or (3) both.
Under the bill, the penalty for violating the law, when the violation is not evidenced by the recorded images captured by a school bus monitoring system would be: (1) a fine of $250 (2) 15 days of community service: or (3) both, in the case of a first offense. For each subsequent offense, the penalty would be a fine of $500 and no less than 15 days of community service.
Under the bill, a civil penalty of $250 would be imposed on a person who passes a school bus in violation of current law, if the violation is evidenced by the recorded images captured by a school bus monitoring system. Under these circumstances, any civil penalty imposed and collected for this violation is to be forwarded to the financial officer of the municipality where the violation occurred and used for general municipal and school district purposes, including efforts to improve the monitoring and enforcement of this law through the utilization of a school bus monitoring system and other public education safety programs. A violation that is evidenced by the recorded images captured by a school bus monitoring system would not result in penalty points or automobile insurance eligibility points being assessed on the violator.
A school bus monitoring system would have to be capable of capturing and producing a record of any occurrence that may be considered illegal passing of a school bus, and include in that recorded image:
- if the school bus is exhibiting its flashing light;
- if a motor vehicle passes a school bus;
- the license plate, make, and model of the violating vehicle; and
- the date, time, and location of the violation.
Any violation captured in a recorded image produced by a school bus monitoring system would be forwarded to the chief law enforcement officer of the municipality where the violation occurred. A law enforcement officer would issue a summons within 90 days of determining that a violation occurred. No summons may be issued for a violation occurring more than 90 days from date of the violation.
The measure now heads to the Governor's desk.