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Should School Buses Have Ignition Interlock Devices?

In the wake of a school bus accident involving an allegedly impaired bus driver on Oct. 3 in Long Island, a number of New York state officials have been calling for ignition interlock devices to be installed on school buses.

The school bus driver in that case is facing numerous criminal charges after the alcohol-related traffic accident.

None of the five small children aboard the bus that crashed into a house in Syosset were injured, but officials worry that might not be the case next time.

The Crash That Started The Discussion

The accident occurred just moments after the 66-year-old driver pulled the mini-bus out of the parking lot of a private Catholic school.

The driver lost control, and the bus plowed into the front of a house across the street.

Neither the children nor anyone in the home was hurt; the driver was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, according to a New York Daily News report.

Though it was first reported that the driver suffered a seizure, hospital employees suspected he had been drinking. He was subsequently charged with five counts of aggravated DWI under Leandra’s Law, endangering the welfare of a child, reckless endangerment, and two counts of DWI, according to the Long Island Herald.

The Herald also noted an incident that occurred in Long Island just a couple of weeks after the Syosset crash, in which a bus driver on the Long Island Expressway was pulled over by police. His blood alcohol content turned out to be .23, or 10 times the legal limit for a commercial driver.

The Ignition Interlock Initiative

According to the Herald report, the ignition interlock initiative comes from New York State Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr., Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, and Assemblyman David McDonough.

Interlock devices keep a vehicle’s engine from starting if the driver has been drinking. The driver blows into a device that tests his or her breath for the presence of alcohol.

The proposed legislation, which is cosponsored by Fuschillo, would mandate that all school buses manufactured after July 1, 2013, for use in New York, shall be equipped with the interlock device.

If the law were to pass, it would be the first of its kind in the nation.

What Comes Next

A more widely-installed ignition interlock device on vehicles could help curb drunk driving, but it would also give rise to potential problems, including:

  • What are the standards for calibration?
  • What happens when a school bus driver blows into the device and the bus fails to start? Are the police immediately called? Who gets the kids to school then?
  • Should drivers with clean records be forced to follow a procedure typically mandated for convicted DWI offenders?

Anyone who ends up being charged with DWI, whether or not the ignition interlock device was involved, should be aware that there are many possible defenses against such charges.

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