May 29, 2024

Bridgeport Officials Celebrate Passage of New Law to Protect Students

Members of the Bridgeport community gathered Tuesday outside Dunbar Elementary School to mark the passage of a new law, intended to protect students from unsafe drivers after the city recorded thousands of motorists illegally passing parked school buses.

The new policy — which was led by Senator Herron Keyon Gaston, a Bridgeport Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Public Safety Committee — ensures that Connecticut municipalities can implement policies to automatically detect and fine drivers who disregard the flashing red lights and extendable stop signs visible on school buses as children board and disembark.

“It was astonishing to see how many people had a reckless disregard for school bus safety,” Gaston said during the press conference, where he was flanked by students of Dunbar School. “So I rolled up my sleeves and hit the ground running and said we have to make sure that no student is injured or hurt and blessedly no students were hit.”

The law, which won nearly unanimous support in the state legislature during this year’s session, directly responded to data from the city of Bridgeport, which indicated that nearly 10,000 drivers had been recorded illegally passing stopped school buses between last September and February.

The city collected the data using camera and sensor technology installed on 74 school buses. The change approved by the legislature will simplify Connecticut law so that towns and cities can use this technology and expressly allows municipalities to issue $250 fines to motorists who violate the state law prohibiting passing a bus that is picking up or dropping off students. The new law requires that fines collected under the program be used to improve public safety.

During Tuesday’s event, Bridgeport officials described feeling dismayed by footage of motorists dangerously maneuvering around children as they tried to board school buses. Mayor Joseph Ganim said he felt “shocked and aghast” when he viewed footage of the violations.

“At all costs, you stop, you wait, and we give priority to the children, to the students,” Ganim said. “That’s not just protocol, that’s not just common decency, that’s the law and we saw thousands of videos of individuals ignoring on a daily basis.”

The mayor said that Gaston could have simply condemned the violations or called for better enforcement.

“But you went a step further — demonstrating not only the leadership but the effectiveness that we need in our state representatives and state senators– and changed the law,” Ganim said of Gaston. “You made it a law that said every child is going to have the strongest laws in place to protect you every day, everywhere, especially when you’re on or getting on or getting off a school bus.”

The policy is designed to deter unsafe driving through fines as well as improve public safety in participating towns and cities. Under the bill, 100% of the revenue generated by the tickets will remain with municipalities.

Bridgeport Police Lieutenant Angelo Collazo praised the bill and stressed the department’s commitment to keeping children safe as they walk to and from school buses.

“Above all, we know that our number one commodity and resource in the city of Bridgeport is our children,” Collazo said.

Dr. Carmela Levy-David, superintendent of Bridgeport Public Schools, agreed.

“Each child here represents the most important priority for their parents at home,” she said. “They’re someone’s heart — they’re someone’s most-beloved and we want to make sure we respect that every day.”

Posted by Hugh McQuaid