How Much Have We Lost?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

School Bus Fix Moves Towards Passage

Last Fall, a criminal defense attorney friend of mine pulled me aside in the courthouse and told me about an error he discovered in the statute that makes is Reckless Driving to pass a school bus. He told me that he thought I should put in a bill to fix it.

Here's the language.

A person is guilty of reckless driving who fails to stop, when approaching from any direction, any school bus which is stopped on any highway, private road or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children, the elderly, or mentally or physically handicapped persons, and to remain stopped until all the persons are clear of the highway, private road or school driveway and the bus is put in motion.

He pointed out to me that if you remove the parenthetical that was added in the 1970's, the statute reads like this and doesn't accomplish its purpose because it is missing the word "at":
A person is guilty of reckless driving who fails to stop . . . [AT] any school bus which is stopped on any highway, private road or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children, the elderly, or mentally or physically handicapped persons, and to remain stopped until all the persons are clear of the highway, private road or school driveway and the bus is put in motion.

I immediately agreed with his assessment and put in a request to for a bill in October. A few weeks later, a Circuit Court Judge agreed with his interpretation and the story hit the newspapers and television.

View more videos at: http://www.nbcwashington.com/?__source=embedCode.

I did not introduce the bill immediately because I did not want to highlight the error. Bills that are filed very early, tend to get more press attention and I did not want the press talking about it.

Now, the Washington Post is reporting that Fairfax County Police are reporting that school bus drivers are reporting increased incidents of people passing stopped school buses. Here's what the Washington Post reported:

"Professional bus drivers with years of experience told us they're seeing record numbers of motorists driving recklessly around buses picking up and discharging students," said Lt. Butch Gamble of the Fairfax police traffic safety division on Monday.

"In the past year, we have had four students hit by motorists while on their way to school," County Schools Superintendent Jack Dale said. "In one instance, a child was crossing the street in a crosswalk when he was hit. I urge all motorists to exercise extreme caution when driving near school buses and bus stops."
About two months after I introduced my bill, another delegate put an identical bill in. My bill was incorporated into his (a common practice when you are a freshman), and it was passed by the House on February 4, 2011. It is scheduled to be passed by the Senate tomorrow, back to us to confirm some amendments and then off to the Governor.

Hopefully, it will become law in short order.

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