BUFFALO, NY There is a bill in the New York State Legislature, proposing that school buses be equipped with ignition interlocks, to prevent operators from driving drunk.
However, a state wide association representing bus companies claims installing the devices would be an expensive waste of taxpayer money.
"The big idea is to protect children," said NYS Senator George Maziarz (R- Newfane) a co-sponsor of the bill, which if passed would have school busses equipped with an interlock device, requiring the operator to breathe into it, to prove that he or she is not intoxicated before the ignition will work.
"I think the Senators involved have the greatest intentions," said Paul Mori of the New York State School Bus Contractors Association, "but with approximately 58,000 school busses on the road in the state, you're looking at anywhere up to $100,000,000."
"That's ridiculous," retorted Maziarz. "We're not saying you have to retrofit every bus in the State of New York, we're saying that any bus that's manufactured after 2015 for use in the State of New York, has to have this safety device on it."
Across the country, nearly a half-million school busses transport 25 million children every school day, according to the American School Bus Council.
By comparison, Mori says the number of proven incidents involving school bus drivers who were intoxicated while actually transporting children, is infinitesimal. Only 37 cases throughout the nation in the past decade, he said.
That would include the last notable occurrence in Western New York, involving a bus driver in Alfred, found to be drunk while driving a bus load of students home in 2009. In that case --as in most cases --no children were seriously hurt as a result.
"Since February 1 1960, there have been 110 school bus fatalities in New York State. Not one of them had alcohol or drug impairment involved on the part of the driver," said Mori, citing a study by the New York State Department of Education which was released in 2010.
"Interlocks have (traditionally) been preserved for people who have violated the law and broken the public's trust when it comes to driving....not all these innocent school bus drivers who have a phenomenal driving record," Mori said, in suggesting that perhaps Maziarz is searching for a 'solution in need of a problem' (as opposed to a problem in need of a solution) in proposing the interlock devices.
"No it is not," replied Maziarz. "Years ago, I am certain there were news accounts just like this that questioned whether we needed those swinging stop signs to stop people from passing the school bus. Or the gate that swings out in the front of the school bus so that children have to walk around so the driver can see them. Those were all safety features," he said.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the nation's worst school bus disaster, when 24 kids and 3 adults were killed in Carrollton, Kentucky.
However, while that crash did involve drunk driving, it was not on the part of the bus driver.
Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board voted today, to recommend that all states lower the blood-alcohol content (BAC) that constitutes drunken driving, from .08, to .05.
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