Pa. bill advances allowing automated cameras on school buses to catch illegal passing
Driving past a school bus with its red flashers on and its stop sign extended could lead to a traffic ticket even with no police officer in sight, if a bill in the Pennsylvania legislature is passed and implemented.
On Wednesday, the state Senate Transportation Committee approved Senate Bill 1098 , which would allow school districts to install automated enforcement cameras on school buses similar to red-light cameras, for automatically photographing and ticketing drivers who pass a school bus as it picks up or drops off passengers.
“I’ve seen some near-fatal incidents with kids stepping off a school bus and trying to get to the curb,” said Sen. Camera Bartolotta, one of the committee members, shortly before the vote to advance the bill to the full Senate for consideration.
According to the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, 106,976 bus drivers in 30 states and Washington, D.C., counted 78,239 vehicles making illegal passes over the course of a single-day survey in 2017 . The survey did not include any drivers from Pennsylvania.
Another association survey found that 17 states allowed photo or video evidence to be used to write a ticket for illegal passing.
Matt Moyer, communications director for lead sponsor Sen. Patrick Browne of Lehigh County, said work on the bill began when constituents complained about problems with vehicles illegally passing their children’s buses.
“It was brought to our attention by parents who’d videotaped cars running past school buses with lights on and arms out,” Moyer said.
Mike Berk, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Bus Association, said his group had worked with legislators on the Senate bill and its companion, House Bill 2225, which remains in the House Transportation Committee, and supported it in its current form.
“The concern we have is that we can put the cameras on buses, but we also need to be enforcing it, so when these drivers come before their local magistrates … they’re actually levying some kind of punishment,” Berk said.
Under the bill, the local police would collect any images from the “automated side stop signal arm enforcement system” and use them to send citations to the owner/operators of the vehicles photographed, though the law says the cameras should be as limited as possible when it comes to capturing images that could identify the driver or passengers. The images would not be considered public records and would have to be destroyed within a year after the conclusion of any court proceedings.
But James Sikorski Jr., the Pennsylvania representative for the National Motorists Association, said he had concerns that the bill does not define the length of any warning period — the yellow flashing lights that precede a school bus stopping — nor does it include a grace period for drivers who may be passing just as the bus’ red flashers come on. Like automated red-light cameras, the citation would be mailed to the vehicle owner matched to the license plate in the photo, without taking into account whether a car has been stolen or borrowed by another driver at the time of the passing violation.
“Illegal school bus passing is rare, and if it occurs, likely not intentional,” Sikorski said in an email. “It may not always be possible to see the bus be able to safely stop, depending upon the exact road configurations and traffic. (You) may not be sure if you need to stop, as there are many wacky roads and intersections, not all just two-way rural roads.”
The bill is now likely to be referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which would discuss it in late May at the earliest, Moyer said.
Note: This story has been updated to clarify the next steps for the legislation.
Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660, [email protected] or via Twitter @msantoni.