Over the past several weeks, a string of school bus accidents across the country generated widespread attention and a renewed focus on the importance of abiding by school bus safety laws. These include several fatal and serious injury accidents involving stopped school buses in multiple states, including:
- A North Carolina woman now facing criminal charges after she struck a school bus that departed from the roadway and overturned, injuring 13 students. She had crossed the center divider and was traveling in the opposite lane at the time of the crash, and has been charged with driving under the influence.
- A fatal wreck in Indiana where a 9-year-old girl and her younger twin brothers were struck and killed by a motorist who sped past a stopped school bus. The driver has been arrested and is facing criminal charged in connection to the incident.
- The death of an elementary school student in Mississippi who was crossing the road to board a stopped school bus. The driver, who had unlawfully passed the stopped school bus, has also been arrested. That same day, a 5-year-old Florida boy was seriously injured when he was struck by a teen driver who had failed to stop behind a school bus.
- A 7-year-old student who had been struck by a slow-moving vehicle in Pennsylvania, and another incident involving five children and two adults in Florida who sustained life-threatening injuries near a stopped school bus on the very same day.
These incidents are nothing short of tragedies, and they are unfortunately not new. However, their devastating toll and the fact that they all occurred within the span of just three days were factors that triggered national attention – from widespread media coverage to a Whitehouse petition, which has gained thousands of signatures from people across the country asking lawmakers to sign legislation that would increase penalties for moving violations involving school buses and school zones.
If there is any silver living to such tragic outcomes, it is that the increased awareness they generate can serve as a reminder about the need to ensure school bus safety, compel motorists to do their part in keeping students safe, and hopefully spark needed changes.
School Bus Laws in DC, Maryland, and Virginia
Because children are so vulnerable to suffering harm in preventable auto accidents, there are specific laws that outline the obligations of motorists in school zones and near school buses. These include:
- Stopped school buses – All 50 states and the District of Columbia make it illegal to pass a stopped school bus that is loading or unloading children, and / or which has its stop arm extended and red lights flashing. Drivers must make a complete stop, and may not proceed until the stop arm is retracted and the bus’s lights stop flashing.
- Stopping distance – The 10 feet surrounding school buses are the most dangerous for students, which is why drivers are required to stop a certain distance from buses. In Maryland, that distance is 20 feet, and in the District it is 15 feet.
- Legal exception – The only time motorists are permitted to pass a school bus is when they are driving on the opposite side of a road and the road is divided by a physical barrier, such as a concrete middle divider. When in doubt about the law and whether you should stop, always err on the side of caution and stop.
- Penalties – Drivers face stiff penalties for violating school bus laws. For example, failing to stop for a stopped school bus can result in citations, points on a driver’s license, and fines up to $500 or more, as well as increased penalties for subsequent violations. In some cases, such as failing to stop behind a school bus in Virginia, drivers may face charges for reckless driving. Violating school bus laws and causing accidents and / or injuries may also result in more serious misdemeanor or felony charges.
- School zones – Drivers who approach school zones should be aware of reduced speed limits. In the DC area, for example, the speed limit in school zones when children are present and school is in session is 15 mph. Fines in school zones can be elevated, and motorists who commit moving violations in those zones may face additional points on their driver’s license, costlier fines, and, in some cases, a driver’s license suspension.
Safety Tips for Parents and Children
- Children should know that getting on and off the bus can be dangerous, and should understand the importance of being safe and behaving accordingly when doing so.
- Children should be sure to step out of the “danger zone” when getting off school buses by taking several big steps away from the bus until they can see the driver and know that the driver sees them.
- Before crossing the street when getting on or off a school bus, children should only cross in front of buses when they get the signal from the driver. They should also be extra cautious of their surroundings, look both ways, and make eye contact with any nearby motorists before they enter the roadway.
- Children should know to never bend down near or under the bus, as it can make them more difficult to be seen by bus drivers and other motorists. They should also never turn back in roadways if they forget any personal items, or look for lost items under a bus.
Negligent Motorists & Victims’ Rights
As a law firm focused on protecting the rights of victims and families following preventable injuries, Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. knows that negligent motorists can put everyone at risk of suffering harm, even when they follow the rules and make safety a priority. Whether they are an adult or a child, victims injured near school buses, at intersections, and in any car, bicycle, or pedestrian accident involving a negligent motorist – including those who fail to stop at school buses – may have the right to pursue the justice and compensation they deserve through the personal injury claim process.
Even when motorists are held accountable by law enforcement when they receive citations or are charged with more serious crimes, including reckless driving or driving under the influence (DUI), those traffic and criminal cases do no provide victims with any meaningful recovery of their damages. To recover those damages, which can include medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering, victims will need to pursue civil claims and lawsuits.
Our team at CSCS has been serving the DC region for over 45 years, and has extensive experience with cases involving child injuries, negligent motorists, and auto accidents. If you believe you might have a potential case involving a school bus accident or any other preventable accident, we’re available to help you take a closer look, better understand your rights when it comes to seeking financial recoveries, and how we can help. Contact us to request a free and confidential consultation.