The following editorial by Senator James W. Holzapfel on legislation he sponsors to establish a pilot program for municipalities and school districts to use video monitoring systems to help enforce laws against illegally passing a school bus was published on NJ.com on Nov. 28, 2015:
Parents across the nation share one simple expectation: Children boarding and exiting a school bus should never be in harm’s way. Shockingly, an estimated 14 million drivers illegally pass stopped school buses each year nationwide, even when school bus stop arms are extended.
Unlawfully passing a school bus is a serious crime in New Jersey. Callous and reckless drivers who choose to break this law must be held accountable for their actions.
— Sen. Jim Holzapfel (@jimholzapfel) December 2, 2015
Each year, children around the country suffer the same fate. These are horrible tragedies that can and should be easily prevented. I am proud to sponsor S-503, because I believe we can do more to stop motorists from endangering school children across our state.
This legislation would establish a pilot program for municipalities and school districts to use video monitoring systems to help enforce laws against illegally passing a school bus. The camera systems can increase public safety by aiding police departments and school districts, as they work to identify drivers who break the law. Only a police officer who reviews the footage will determine whether to cite a driver who illegally passes a school bus.
Too often, drivers who illegally pass school buses are never caught. Bus drivers, who are required to record the license plate number of an illegally passing car, only have a few seconds to do so before the car disappears around the next corner.
The school bus video monitoring systems will capture live footage, producing high resolution, color images that clearly reveal the illegally passing vehicle’s make, model and license plate. The digital record will be marked with a time stamp recording the exact date and time of the violation. This bill will undoubtedly give law enforcement officials the 21st century tools they need to hold reckless drivers accountable for putting children at risk.
Under current law, drivers must slow to 10 miles per hour and wait for all children to safely board or exit a school bus before resuming normal speed. Those who are “caught on tape” speeding past a school bus exhibiting flashing red lights or an electronic indicator will receive a summons with a citation of the violation within 90 days.
Currently, a first time offender only has to pay a $100 fine for breaking this law – that’s barely a slap on the wrist. Under S-503, drivers who unlawfully pass a school bus will accrue five points on their license and face a far greater fine of $500. Drivers who violate this law a second time could also face a prison term of up to 15 days. Many may also receive a community service sentence. The Motor Vehicle Commission will have the power to revoke the license of a driver who willfully breaks this law.
The camera systems will be installed, operated and maintained by a private vendor who enters a contract with a municipal school district that owns, provides or operates school buses. This public-private partnership will ease the burden of long-term maintenance and upkeep, allowing schools and law enforcement to focus on keeping kids safe from reckless drivers. Enacting this legislation will have no fiscal impact on the state or any municipality the uses this effective and lifesaving public safety tool.
Motorists who speed past a school bus with blinking red lights and swerve around the extended stop sign are knowingly breaking the law. No one should have the right to prioritize a quicker commute over an innocent child’s health and welfare. It is my hope that increasing these penalties will finally force drivers to think twice before putting children at risk of serious injury or death.
At least 17 other states have, or are considering, laws that authorize the use of camera monitoring systems on the outside of school buses. It is time that New Jersey joins these efforts to protect our children.