County officials pick vendors, seek districts to join program to nab drivers who pass stopped buses

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Oneida County has picked a company to install automated cameras designed to crack down on drivers who pass stopped school buses and is asking school districts if they’d like to take part in the program.

The county chose Verra Mobility, formerly known as American traffic Solutions of Mesa, Arizona, as the provider for the program. The company announced Tuesday it had been awarded multiple three-year contracts with Oneida, Broome and Orange counties in New York for the service.

County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. is writing to school superintendents to ask if they would like to join the program, which the county says will cost schools nothing.

It’s all to stop a dangerous safety situation. A state school transportation association reported that in one survey it found 306 illegal passes in one school day across New York state, including six on the side of buses where students enter and exit. If extrapolated from the surveyed bus drivers to the whole state, that rate would mean 64,000 passes on one day.

The cameras are automated and record an image of an illegally passing vehicle’s license plate. The cameras are only triggered when the school bus is stopped and the stop arm is extended. 

A law enforcement officer from the Sheriff’s Office will be tasked with reviewing the photo evidence before the vendor sends a notice to offending vehicle owners. Schools are not involved. It’s considered simpler than how the law is enforced now, which requires a bus driver to note the vehicle’s identification and make a complaint with a law enforcement agency.

Oneida County legislators passed legislation in February to establish a program in which the county will hire a company to install the cameras and monitor them in exchange for a percentage of the penalties collected, which is $250 for a first offense then up to $275 and $300 for second and third violations.

Because offending would be considered a civil violation and not a traditional traffic ticket, it would not cost a driver points on his or her license, which can substantially increase auto-insurance premiums. With that and the relatively low first-offense penalty, officials expect the program to convince most drivers to comply rather than take the matter to court.

Failing to comply can result in fines and could affect the vehicle’s registration.

County officials had hoped to start the program this year. The agreement with the company is expected by year’s end, according to Picente.

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