WESTMORELAND— Rep. Anthony J. Brindisi, D-22, Utica, addressed school bus drivers and concerned citizens yesterday at the Westmoreland High School bus garage to announce proposed new federal legislation promoting school bus safety.
Brindisi also presented 27-year-old Norwich Central School bus driver Samantha Call of Smyrna, with an award recognizing her for “quick thinking and heroic actions” on April 26.
Call, while dropping off 13-year-old student/passenger Matthew Squires quickly pulled the student back from exiting her bus as a silver Pontiac Grand Am sped by the opening doors.
The action surely saved him from serious injury and, or possible death, according to school district and law enforcement officials.
“School bus drivers are trained to watch their rearview mirrors as passengers are exiting,” Call said. “It was then I saw the oncoming vehicle coming up the right side of the bus.”
Brindisi — who was joined by Oneida County Sheriff Robert Maciol, Westmoreland School Transportation Supervisor Michael Sweeney, New York State PTA Executive Director Kyle McCauley Belokopitsky, PTO Vice President Megan Otis and Call — said as a former school board member and a dad of two young children this issue is very personal to him.
“We must do everything we can to keep our kids safe on their way to and from school,” Brindisi said. “Thats why I am proud to announce I am co-sponsoring, the bipartisan Stop for School Buses Act to find ways to prevent illegal and dangerous school bus passing.”
Brindisi explained that according to the National School Transportation Association, an average of nine to 15 children are killed each year while boarding or exiting school buses near traffic, and a total of 15 million illegal passing incidents occur during every 180-day school year.
Brindisi praised Call, and her fellow bus drivers, for their adherence to the safety of their students.
“As a parent, I am incredibly grateful for the dedicated professionals like Samantha Call who go above and beyond their job descriptions to keep our kids safe,” Brindisi said. “The Stop for School Buses Act is an important step to ensure everyone on the road shares the same responsibility for student’s safety.”
Oneida County Sheriff Robert Maciol said,
“It’s an honor to meet the hero here,” motioning towards Call. “We are one of the millions who shared that video I think, but it proves that it does happen.” The video showing the incident, released by Norwich Central Schools, has been viewed as of Thursday May 9, 434,000 times on Youtube, according to NYup.com.
“Certainly here in New York 50,000 buses are passed on a daily basis when the bus is stopped,” Maciol continued.”Certainly looking at that significant number that is something law enforcement cannot do on their own. So we need help from all angles to help us get this situation under control. We think one of the things that can assist us is, if we could have every single bus have a camera on it.”
Maciol said he understood that was a financial burden on the school districts and he hoped they could look to the federal leaders to provide some funding so they could get those cameras on the buses. The sheriff thanked the men and women who drive the buses and said he understood they had a difficult job.
“As a bus driver and as somebody parents trust with their kids every single day, most bus drivers will tell you what I experienced common and is a nightmare seeing a kid as close to danger as my student was that day,” she said. “ I can’t express how grateful I am the congressman is going to push the issue, and push the need for safer school bus stop awareness. And also, get the word out...this all needs to stop,” Call said.
Sweeney said irresponsible driving is far too common.
“Distracted driving causes a lot of it,” Sweeney said. “Cell phone...number one. And everybody seems to be more in a rush these days. And, nobody wants to get behind a school bus either. So...it’s just rush, rush, rush.
Maciol was asked about current penalties for this sort of driving.
“If your convicted first offense is five points on your license,” Maciol said.”In addition, the fine is a minimum $250 and up to 30 days in jail. A second offense is the same points on your license, the fine goes up to $750 and the same 30 days in jail. Third offense is a $1000.
But Maciol said more importantly there were things about this bill that could help the public and keep his office from struggling with a lot.
“It’s about making sure everyone is properly educated on the law,” the sheriff said. “Which will stop people from passing stopped school buses.”