School bus cameras debated during Statehouse news conference

 Legislation authorizing school districts and bus companies to install cameras on their school buses to catch motorists who pass illegally is garnering both support and opposition.

Arguments for and against the cameras were made during a Statehouse news conference Thursday featuring the bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Troy Singleton, as well as an avowed opponent, Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon, who showed up at the end of the event to bash the proposal as a money grab by the companies that install and manage the cameras.

"This is a clever attempt by the corrupt automated enforcement companies to get their hands back in our pockets by playing at our heartstrings and our concerns about our kids," O'Scanlon said.

The legislation would allow school districts to contract with vendors to install, operate and maintain school bus monitoring systems on their vehicles to assist with enforcement of the no-passing law.

Under the bill, video of suspected violations would be sent to the police department in the towns where they occur for review. If the police concur, a traffic summons would be issued to the owner of the vehicle.

The bill would also increase the fines for violations of the no-passing law to between $300 and $500 for all offenses from the existing $100 for first-time offenders and $250 for subsequent offenses.

The revenue from the fines would be directed to the town or school district to support the program. Typically, it costs about $10,000 to equip each school bus, officials said.

Typically, the firm contracted to install the cameras would cover that expense.

During a Statehouse news conference, Singleton said the legislation wasn't a money grab, but rather is intended to give school districts another tool to keep children safe.

He cited a national survey of school bus drivers in 29 states that found that about 76,000 vehicles illegally passed school buses on a given day.

"When those buses are illegally passed, unfortunately, on occasion, someone is injured. And it's our children — my children and any of your children. And for us, we want to use technology in a way to prevent these incidents from happening," Singleton said, adding that several other states have similar laws authorizing the use of the cameras.

Singleton was joined by several other supporters, including Joanne Ciccotelli, a school bus driver from Dennis, and Nicole Moore, principal of the Indian Mills Elementary School in Shamong.

"I'm well aware of the precious cargo we have on that bus," Ciccotelli said. "My eyes are on the kids every second, every day. And an accident can happen any second."

While the numbers of documented cases of children being struck by vehicles while entering or exiting school buses are believed to be few, Moore said she's seen plenty of close calls, including two involving her own children.

"As a mother and school principal, I will never stop worrying about my children," Moore said. "But this legislation will allow me to breathe a little easier."

O'Scanlon arrived uninvited at the end of the news conference to criticize the proposal, saying it was being pushed by the same companies that install and manage red light cameras.

The New Jersey Department of Transportation suspended the use of the cameras in 2014.

"This would reintroduce for-profit enforcement of our traffic laws," said O'Scanlon, R-13th of Little Silver, who was one of the leading voices against the use of red light cameras in the state.

He argued that little-known "technical violations" such as failure to stop more than 25 feet from a stopped school bus could be enforced with the cameras.

"We've heard anecdotal evidence that there's some type of epidemic of children being killed by people passing school buses," O'Scanlon said. "That's absolutely not the case."


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