May 2, 2024

Senate Passes Bill to Deter Illegal Passing of School Buses

Connecticut towns and cities would retain the option of adopting monitoring systems to detect and fine motorists who illegally pass parked school buses under a bill passed Thursday by the state Senate.

The bill cleared the chamber on a 35 – 1 vote and will now move to the House for consideration before the session’s May 8 adjournment.

The legislation was a top priority of Sen. Herron Keyon Gaston, a Bridgeport Democrat who co-chairs the Public Safety Committee and proposed the policy in an effort to address concerns raised by his constituents in Bridgeport.

The bill directly responds to data from Bridgeport, which indicated that nearly 10,000 drivers had been recorded illegally passing stopped school buses in the first six months of this academic year.

During a debate on the bill, Gaston said the bill was an important policy to protect the safety and wellbeing of children.

“My heart was deeply troubled when I learned about how many cars went past those school buses and blessedly, no kid was seriously injured or killed,” Gaston said. “I can imagine the hysteria and anxiety that caused for communities like mine.

“Oftentimes, our parents and the folks in our community feel overlooked and I think today they feel that the state of Connecticut is listening to their voices and putting the safety of our young people at the forefront,” Gaston said.

Currently, towns and cities have the ability to use technology to fine motorists who illegally pass parked buses under a temporary program, which will sunset on July 1, 2026. The bill allows Connecticut towns and cities the option of continuing to employ cameras to detect those motorists and issue offending drivers a fine of $250.

Sen. Christine Cohen, a Guilford Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Transportation Committee, said that motorists passing school buses was a problem in Connecticut, especially in the state’s urban centers, where people and children are densely populated.

The “stop-arm cameras” permitted under the bill were designed to grab the attention of drivers before they illegally pass a bus and endanger students, Cohen said.

“These cameras — this technology available to us is going to save lives,” Cohen said. “We’d love for law enforcement to catch everybody that does this, [but] for them to be in that place at the exact time that somebody is passing a school bus is unusual.”

The fines contemplated by the bill are similar to those adopted by the state of New York, where drivers can be fined between $250 and $400 for illegally passing a school bus on a first offense.

Under the bill, municipalities will retain all of the fines collected, which will be used on initiatives to enhance public safety.

Posted by Hugh McQuaid