Drivers who pass school buses when their red flashers are on and their stop signs are extended could find themselves ticketed by police, regardless of whether there was an officer in the area, if a bill currently in front of the Pennsylvania legislature passes and is implemented.
The Senate Transportation Committee today approved a bill, Senate Bill 1098, which would give school districts permission to have automated cameras put up on school buses. These cameras are similar to cameras at red lights, and automatically take pictures of vehicles that pass a school bus as it drops off or picks up students. The drivers are then automatically ticketed.
Senator Camera Bartolotta, one of the committee members, stated that she has witnessed some incidents of children stepping off a school bus and nearly being killed trying to get to the curb.
The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services says that, in a one-day survey in 2017, 106,976 bus drivers in 30 states counted 78,239 vehicles illegally passing their buses. No Pennsylvania bus drivers were included in the survey.
Another survey by the same organization learned that 17 states allow the use of photo or video evidence in writing tickets for illegal passing.
Work on the bill started after constituents of its lead sponsor, Senator Patrick Browne of Lehigh County, complained that there were problems with their children’s buses being passed illegally, according to Browne’s communications director, Matt Moyer.
The Pennsylvania School Bus Association worked with legislators to craft the bill, and its House companion, House Bill 2225, according to the association’s executive director, Mike Berk. The House bill is still in the House Transportation Committee. The association supports the bill in its current form.
The association’s concern is enforcement. They would like to see drivers get punished in some manner when they appear in their local magistrate’s court.
The bill calls for local police to collect images from the cameras, called “automated side stop signal arm enforcement systems,” and use them to send tickets to the owners or operators of the photographed vehicles. The law does say that cameras should be limited, as much as possible, when they take pictures so that images of passengers and drivers are not collected. The images would be destroyed within a year after court proceedings were over, as they would not be considered public records.
Not everyone is on board with the bill. The National Motorists Association’s Pennsylvania representative, James Sikorski Jr., is concerned that the bill does not define the length of time the yellow flashing lights warn drivers about the upcoming stop. He is also concerned that the bill doesn’t include a grace period for a driver who is passing just as the red flashers come on. Current law allows a driver who is already on his way around a bus to continue if the yellow flashers come on. And, since the ticket would be issued to the owner of the vehicle, determined by matching it to the license plate in the picture, the status of the vehicle—if it was borrowed by another driver or was stolen—is not taken into account.
Sikorski stated that illegal school bus passing is rare and not likely to be intentional.
The bill will next go to the Senate Appropriations Committee. They will discuss it late in the month of May, at the earliest, according to Moyer.
The penalties for illegally passing a school bus can be steep. A conviction comes with five points added to your driver’s license, a 60-day license suspension, and a fine of $250. There are defenses that can be successfully used to get a charge of illegal passing dismissed. If it can be proved that you made an honest mistake, for example, if the bus was stopped on a curve and you couldn’t see it until it was too late, it’s possible to get the charges dropped. It is, however, better to be safe than sorry. Pay attention out there, and give school buses a wide berth.
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