‘We have so many near misses’

Every day, millions of parents across our state trust bus drivers with their children’s lives, and our members who work as bus drivers and monitors take this responsibility seriously.

The Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee reports that 2.3 million children across New York State travel to and from school by school bus every year.

While school buses are considered one of the safest forms of transportation on the road, many drivers have harrowing stories about being put at risk for injury or death, often due to distracted and unsafe driving.

Every day, thousands of motorists ignore flashing red lights and illegally pass school buses while they are loading and unloading children. One survey estimated that nearly 55,000 drivers passed a stopped school bus on a single day in New York, including nearly 700 cases of drivers passing on the side where students were boarding and exiting.

Our union is fighting to ensure that everyone who rides a school bus is as safe as possible, including through legislation.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed the legislation (A.4950B/S.4524B) allowing for the use of school bus safety cameras to capture vehicles that illegally pass stopped school buses and increase penalties for violators. CSEA strongly supported the legislation.

Another CSEA priority bill (S.5705/A.7538A) would require that school bus drivers and monitors be included in district-wide and building-level school safety teams, as the drivers and monitors play a key role in ensuring students’ safety. The bill had passed both legislative houses earlier this year, but has not yet been delivered to the governor as this edition went to press.

“We hear from our school bus drivers every day about drivers who illegally pass their stopped buses, putting the children they drive at risk,” CSEA President Danny Donohue said. “Our bus drivers and monitors are constantly on the watch to protect them, but we can never be too safe. We applaud our state elected officials for their support of these bills.”

Our members discussed with The Work Force’s Therese Assalian, Wendi Bowie, Jessica Ladlee and Ove Overmyer their accounts of near misses on the road and support for the new law.

“I’ve been driving a bus for 25 years and I’ve seen it all. The cameras will help get pictures of the cars and that will help take some of the pressure off the drivers. Before, we had to try to get the plates and then report the incident to the police but often, if the driver could be found, they would only get a warning.

Now, we will have less of the onus on us and the police will be able to act. Just this morning, a tractor trailer and a car ran a red on a bus driven by one of my co-workers and the state police pulled them both over for a ticket. This is a positive step that will make it safer for kids.”

— Gwen Frament, bus driver, Shenendehowa Central School District

“Every day, we’re seeing people ignoring the red lights when we’re stopped. We don’t just have to be aware of the drivers, but also have to make sure the students are paying attention. Many of [the students]are wearing earbuds listening to music as they’re getting on and off the bus, which means they might
not hear what’s going on. Our job is to keep the students safe. Anything else that can be done to hold drivers accountable will help us do our job.”

— Virginia Connell, bus driver and Beacon City School District Unit Treasurer

“People are passing by stop signs all of the time. Whether we’re picking up the kids or dropping them off, every day people fly past us with very little regard for the kids’ safety or ours.”

— Pavan Sharma, bus driver,Deer Park Union Free School District




“Every time a vehicle illegally passes a school bus, I get very angry. For
the health and safety of everyone, it just makes common sense to enforce
consequences for drivers who willfully put our children and school personnel
at risk.”

— Colleen Clifford, bus driver, Clarence Central School District and 1st vice president of our Erie County Educational Local

“For years, I have witnessed a general lack of concern by drivers when they
approach a stopped school bus. Anything we can do to minimize the safety risk for students and school bus employees is a step in the right direction.”

— Patty Reitz, bus driver, Clarence Central School District

“I approached the bus stop, with my yellow lights on, and opened the bus door. The red lights came on and the stop sign came out.

I looked into the mirror on my left and saw a car flying by as the student was attempting to cross in front of the bus to the other side of the street, which put the student directly in the path of the oncoming car.

I blared the horn, signaling the student to stop, and the car went whizzing by, running through the stop sign. The student looked at me for a signal that it was safe, and the student continued to walk across the street. I experience at least one or two cars blowing through my red lights on a daily basis.”

— Karen Schroeter, bus driver, Kings Park Central School District

“We really need to stress the importance of bus safety to kids and adults. We’ve [bus drivers]had incidents with kids riding their bikes around the school yard, taunting the bus drivers. I’m hoping this new legislation will help protect the children, and the bus drivers, by increasing the likelihood of accountability.”

— Vito Rebecca, bus driver, Deer Park Union Free School District

“A lot of the time, people are on their phones, and they’re just not paying attention, which is why we need this bus safety legislation.

By Deer Park High School, the buses are lined up with their “reds” on, and [drivers]picking up the kids zoom right by. That’s really dangerous because some of the kids walk between the buses and may not be seen in time for drivers to stop. I don’t think the parents realize how dangerous the situation is because they’re at the school and not on one of the back roads.”

— Dennis Walker, bus driver and CSEA Unit Executive Vice President, Deer Park Union Free School District

“I’m glad our union has advocated for [bus safety cameras]being made a law. I think if people know they’re being recorded by these exterior cameras, it will make a difference when it comes to illegal passing. We have a huge problem on one of our state highways, Route 22. People think because it’s a divided highway, they don’t have to stop, but that’s not true. Having these cameras is going to be a big help.”

— Paul Stoveland, bus driver, Pawling School District



“We are happy [the bus camera law has been passed]. The safety of the children comes first. We have so many near misses because people are in a hurry — they just want to save that 30 seconds. Many drivers seem to think that when we have our yellows on, you can speed up and pass us instead of preparing for the bus to stop.

I was stopped at a railroad crossing one day, which we’re required to do, and someone behind me got mad and cut around me to pass. That could have caused an accident. There are a lot of dangerous things that happen because drivers are either impatient or don’t know the law.”

— Yvette Gerard, bus driver, Pawling Central School District Unit


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