Leadership Void Hobbles School Bus Safety Program Rollout
By Arnold W. Drucker
As our children continue their 2023-24 studies, so too does the daily jockeying to make sure they have a safe and reliable way to get to school every day. Many are driven to school; others walk; and the remainder rely upon school bus transportation. Regrettably, as it pertains to that latter form of transportation, many school buses serving our County currently lack a major safety tool – stop-arm cameras that ensure motorists who illegally pass buses are held accountable.
As a cosponsor of the 2019 legislation that cleared the way for a stop-arm camera program here in Nassau County, I am frustrated by the laissez-faire approach the Blakeman administration has taken to getting school districts to sign up for a program that is expressly designed to promote public safety and protect our children. What makes it especially disappointing is that school districts like Jericho – which have cameras installed on all its buses – can’t use this potentially life-saving technology until the Town and the vendor sign a contract.
After the administration of former County Executive Laura Curran correctly spearheaded the program – the rollout of which was complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 – County Executive Blakeman has seen fit to punt the project to the towns and cities. In recent remarks to the Newsday editorial board, his spokesman cited “pluses and minuses” to the initiative as the rationale.
What downsides could there possibly be? Irritating a motorist with a hefty ticket for making a selfish and unlawful decision to pass a school bus filled with potentially dozens of youngsters? That’s the point of threatening a $250 fine – it deters unacceptable behavior and makes our roads safer for all of us. In the interest of fairness, rigorous safeguards must be in place to prevent and correct erroneous tickets.
Data from neighboring Suffolk’s countywide stop-arm camera program show that this uniform, countywide approach is working. In its first year of full implementation in 2021, Suffolk County’s program issued more than 118,000 tickets. The next year, the number of tickets dropped by 40 percent, according to data. Experts say that’s because the vast number of first-time offenders learn their lesson and don’t do it again.
That’s exactly what we want to have happen here in Nassau County. However, because of the disjointed approach the Blakeman administration has settled upon, it’s every town for themselves. As programs like Jericho’s remain in limbo, the patchwork quilt of enforcement diminishes the deterrence effect. If the Blakeman administration continued with a unified, countywide approach like Suffolks, perhaps we would have had more leverage with the vendor to get this done more expeditiously. Nevertheless, the Town of Oyster Bay says it is hoping for a January 2024 launch, and I will be closely monitoring this situation to make sure that happens.
While we wait for this crucial program to shift out of neutral in several key communities within our County, the onus is upon all of us to make the best of this flawed landscape. We can accomplish that by ensuring that every Nassau County school district is equipped and ready to flip the switch to turn on their cameras as soon as the necessary approvals are secured. If your school district remains on the fence, I encourage you to engage with your local leaders and urge them to take this common-sense step to protect our children.
Arnold W. Drucker, of Plainview, has represented Nassau County’s 16th Legislative District since 2016.