Passing A Stopped School Bus. Know the Law!
Every Fall season, as school buses start gearing up for another school year, we are reminded of the dangers of passing a stopped school bus. Children getting on and off a school bus often have to cross the street, making this the most dangerous part of riding a school bus. Bus drivers use lights and swinging stop arms to warn drivers. Children are told to look before crossing, but they are not mature enough to remember to do it every time. Therefore, the legislature put the responsibility on motorists.
When Do You Have To Stop For A School Bus?
According to North Carolina General Statute § 20-217, drivers approaching a stopped school bus from any direction must come to a complete stop and remain stopped, when:
- a school bus is displaying its mechanical stop signal or flashing red lights; and
- the bus is stopped for the purpose of receiving or discharging passengers.
All other vehicles are required to remain completely stopped until after the mechanical stop signal has been withdrawn, the flashing red stoplights have been turned off, and the bus has started to move.
When Can I Pass A Stopped School Bus?
Vehicles following in the same direction as the school bus must always stop! However, for other drivers, there may be exceptions based on the type of roadway. Vehicles traveling on 2-lane roadways must stop in all directions. Vehicles traveling in the opposite direction from the school bus on a divided roadway (with a physical median separating the two directions of travel) are not required to stop, as school buses are not allowed to let children cross a physical median. Similarly, vehicles travelling in the opposite direction from the school bus on a divided roadway with 5 or more lanes (where a dedicated turning lane divides the two directions of travel) are not required to stop. A chart describing these rules can be viewed at NCBusSafety.org.
Even when a vehicle is permitted to pass a stopped school bus, the driver is required to do so in a safe manner while looking for other vehicles and children.
How Can They Prove I Failed To Stop For The School Bus?
Being a serious risk to life and safety of others, witnesses are quick to report drivers who pass a stopped school bus. Witness testimony can be provided by the bus driver or other drivers who witnessed the occurrence. They may be able to provide a license plate number, description of the car, and possibly a description of the driver. Many buses are now equipped with cameras that record the area of passing cars, which would show a vehicle passing while the stop arm is out and lights illuminated.
What Are The Penalties For Passing A Stopped School Bus?
In North Carolina, passing a stopped school bus charge is a Class 1 misdemeanor (Class I felony if a person gets struck by the vehicle and Class H felony if a person is killed). A Class 1 misdemeanor carries possible jail time of up to 120 days; a Class I felony carries possible jail time of up to 27 months; and a Class H felony carries possible jail time of up to 39 months. No “Prayer For Judgment” is allowed for these convictions.
Upon conviction, there are also mandatory minimum fines (on top of court costs) of: $500.00 (Class 1 misdemeanor), $1250.00 (Class I felony); and $2500.00 (Class H felony). Additionally, DMV will assess 5 driver’s license points for the offense (8 points if driving a commercial vehicle) and a driver can expect an 80% increase in their insurance cost.
A second misdemeanor conviction within 3 years will result in a 1-year suspension of a person’s license. A conviction of a Class I felony offense will result in a 2 year suspension and a 3 year suspension will be assessed for a Class H felony conviction. A second felony (third misdemeanor) conviction will result in a permanently suspended license. There are limits on limited driving privileges and DMV hearings requesting reinstatement.
What Options Are Available When Charged With Passing A Stopped School Bus?
Because of the seriousness of the charge, and the consequences that could follow a conviction, you are strongly encouraged to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Every case is different and depends on its own particular set of facts to determine what options are available. The prosecutor usually does not offer much leniency, so any negotiation for a more favorable outcome depends on the strength of the defendant’s case. Even if entering some sort of plea, an experienced attorney can present mitigation factors to help minimize negative consequences. These cases often result in a trial, which carries its own level of difficulty, and having an attorney involved would certainly be a smart choice.
If you were charged with unlawfully passing a stopped school bus with a court date in Guilford County, North Carolina, at either Greensboro or High Point courthouse, please do not delay; call us today. We will speak with you about your case and guide you through your options.