Stop for school buses, it’s the law
While awaiting the arrival of the school bus, students often use this time to catch up with their friends and prepare for the day ahead of them, yet being alert and cautious of potential dangers from vehicles is sometimes necessary.
Many recognize passing a stopped school bus is dangerous, but it’s also illegal. School zones and bus loading areas at county schools are under close watch by local law enforcement.
“We stop four to five people a week for failing to stop for a school bus. The area we have seen the most violations occur and is the biggest problem with this issue is on Veteran’s Boulevard,” said Captain Brian Kirkland of the Swain County Sheriff’s Department. “Especially where there’s a sort of hidden road that is a bus stop. I believe that most people don’t know the law and fail to stop if they are heading in the opposite direction of the bus since there is no median located there.”
Unfortunately, an officer cannot follow buses to each stop to pick up and drop off students. This means that officers may not be able to catch individuals who choose not to stop, which puts students at risk for being struck by a moving vehicle.
As stated in the North Carolina General Statutes, G.S. 20-217(a) requires the driver of a vehicle that approaches a school bus from any direction on the same street, highway, or public vehicular area to stop and remain stopped when (1) the bus is displaying its mechanical stop signal or flashing red lights and (2) is stopped for the purpose of allowing passengers to board or leave the bus. The driver of the other vehicle may not move, pass, or attempt to pass the school bus until after (1) the mechanical stop signal has been withdrawn, (2) the flashing red stoplights have been turned off, and (3) the bus has started to move.
According to Melissa Lackey, with Swain County Clerk’s Office, “There are fines associated with violating the stopped bus law that could cost you upwards of $800 for a misdemeanor conviction. You will be issued a mandatory court date to appear in front of a judge, and it is at the judge’s discretion to determine how much the fine imposed will be, as judgments are issued on a case by case basis.”
You may also have five points added to your license. A second conviction for passing a stopped school bus within three years results in 1 year revocation of your North Carolina driver’s license. Felony violations carry a fine of $1,000 for a Class I felony. A Class H felony carries a $2,500 fine.
Toby Burrell, Swain County Schools Public Information Officer and Safe Schools Coordinator, spoke about safety measures and student resource officers that have added a level of additional safety for students. Burrell says that in addition to having a sheriff’s deputy or student resource officer stationed at each school, county wide, “not all, but the majority of our buses come equipped with video cameras that catch several angles including the drivers view. On top of that, we also have communication with the driver and our bus garage, in the event that something happens.” He added that all schools have teachers present each morning in designated student drop off areas, except for at the high school, which has a student resource officer on campus directing traffic and ensuring student safety within the school zone.
It is imperative that when operating a motor vehicle that you are aware of your surroundings, adhere to the law and bring your vehicle to a complete stop when the flashing stop lights and arm of the bus are engaged.
Slow your vehicle down to the posted speed for the school zone(s) you enter. This will not only keep the students safe and out of potential situations that injury or fatality could occur, but will also ensure that you will not face a hefty fine and points applied to your license. We all get in a rush in our day to day lives but, exercising caution, doing the posted speed and obeying the stopped bus law could prevent a life altering and possibly irreversible event from taking place. Be alert and aware of your surroundings, it could save a life.