Police in Rowan County, North Carolina say that the tragic death of a 17-year-old illustrates just how important it is to institute stiffer penalties for those who illegaly pass stopped school buses.
The deadly accident happened only a few weeks ago when a 17-year-old boy was hit and killed as he crossed a two-lane road in Salisbury to board his school bus. Police say the wreck occurred because the driver chose to ignore flashing lights and attempted to go around the bus, striking the unsuspecting teen in the process. Police have announced that the driver will be charged with felony passing a stopped school bus.
North Carolina currently has laws in place that make it a crime to pass a stopped school bus. Violators are charged with a misdemeanor and can be fined up to $200. However, the charge is escalated to a felony in the event that someone is killed in connection with the illegal passing.
These laws are poised to change come December 1st when new, tougher penalties go into effect. The new law was signed earlier this year following the December 2012 death of an 11-year-old boy from Forsyth County who was hit by another driver who was illegally passing a school bus. The new law will increase the minimum fine for those caught passing stopped buses to $500. The law also says that in certain cases a driver can have his or her license revoked and, if fines are not paid, they can have their license plates temporarily revoked.
Transportation officials say that tougher laws are long overdue and that 13 children have been killed since 1998 from drivers who decided to illegally pass a stopped school bus. In 2009, legislators gave school districts another tool to help curb the trouble caused by dangerous drivers when they allowed counties to equip buses with cameras to identify drivers who pass buses. Rowan County, site of the recent deadly collision, was one of the earliest adopters of the technology and outfitted several buses with the cameras back in 2011. Officials say that since the cameras were installed 45 drivers have been caught passing school buses illegally and of that total, 43 have either pled or been found guilty.
The hope is that newly tough penalties and tactics like the bus cameras work to change drivers’ behaviors. People need to understand just how dangerous such a decision can be and how saving a few second of travel time is not worth the terrible price of an injured or dead child.
Here's a Google Map showing the location of the recent deadly school bus accident: