Poughkeepsie … In anticipation of Safe Stop Education and Enforcement Day on Thursday, April 27th, Dutchess County Executive William F.X. O’Neil announced today Arlington Central School District (ACSD) driver Kathleen O’Connor has been named the recipient of the 20th Dutchess County School Bus Driver of the Year Award, recognizing her exemplary service and safety record transporting students to and from school. The award, part of the Dutchess County Traffic Safety Board’s efforts to promote school bus safety, is given in conjunction with the launch of the annual Operation Safe Stop Project supported by the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee.
New York State Vehicle and Traffic law requires drivers to stop from either direction, even on a divided highway, any time a school bus’s red lights are flashing. Passing a school bus with red lights is not only dangerous, but it is illegal and punishable with fines ranging from $250 to $1,000; a motorist may also be assessed five points on their driver’s license, and penalties can include possible imprisonment (up to 30 days for first offense and 180 days for a third or subsequent conviction).
On Operation Safe Stop Education and Enforcement Day, County, state and local law enforcement agencies will shadow school buses to identify and ticket drivers who do not obey the flashing red lights on a stopped school bus. Law enforcement throughout Dutchess County will target enforcement efforts at what school transportation officials have identified as “hot spots,” where most violations typically occur.
County Executive O’Neil said, “Motorists’ safe driving practices complement the dedicated service of bus drivers like Kathleen O’Connor, whose professionalism and diligence behind the wheel assure a safe ride to and from school. We thank Ms. O’Connor for promoting safety on our roadways, and remind all drivers to stop for a school bus that has its red lights flashing – it’s the law, and it protects children.
“Everyone on the road plays a role in ensuring the safety of our students, and respecting school buses keeps children safe,” the County Executive continued. “That’s why Dutchess County has partnered with safety technology innovator BusPatrol LLC to protect students from motorists who pass a stopped school bus. In the year-and-a-half since its inception, our school bus safety program has made a real difference in raising awareness among residents to the dangers of driving recklessly around a bus with its flashing red lights on.”
The County Executive today presented Ms. O’Connor, who has driven for the ACSD for the past 25 years without a preventable collision following 20 years of safe driving for Southern Westchester BOCES, with a commemorative plaque and honored her as the School Bus Driver of the Year at the Operation Safe Stop kickoff press conference.
“Being a bus driver has never been just a job to me,” Ms. O’Connor wrote in letter accompanying ACSD Director of Transportation Daniel McNamara’s nomination of her. “I truly enjoy waking up every day to see the smiling faces of my students and ensure that they get to school safely. … In a very unpredictable world, I try and make sure that my bus is a safe place for my students to simply be themselves. I continuously try and make sure that I go above and beyond to not only drive my students to school safely, but to be there for them as a mentor and a friend.”
The Dutchess County Traffic Safety Board’s School Bus Driver of the Year award seeks to promote school bus safety through education and enforcement efforts. School bus drivers are an integral part of the safe transportation of school children, and crashes and related injuries are prevented by these highly trained professionals’ experience, skill and daily performance.
The annual award was initiated in 2002 to increase public awareness regarding school bus safety issues and to recognize school bus drivers who get children to and from school safely on a daily basis; due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no award was given out in 2020 and 2021.
Honoring the School Bus Driver of the Year and recognizing Safe Stop Education and Enforcement Day are just two of Dutchess County’s measures to raise awareness about school bus safety.
The County’s school bus safety program, in collaboration with Bus Patrol, began in December 2021, provides every district in the County access to advanced safety technology, including stop-arm cameras to help enforce traffic laws and educate motorists on the dangers of passing school buses, at no cost to local taxpayers.
Nine of the 13 school districts within Dutchess County have joined the partnership – several others are in discussions to join – with 12,631 violations being issued to motorists, as of March 31st.
According to the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee, an estimated 50,000 motorists illegally pass stopped school buses every day in New York State, putting the lives and safety of children at risk.