Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Back To School - Focus on Bus Safety

While the last days of summer fade away and a new school year begins, teachers across the state are either writing or implementing their first lesson plans.  Often these lessons plans include a review of subjects that students learned the previous year but may have forgotten.  As drivers sharing the roadway with the school busses that will transport these students, we too can use a refresher course on the traffic laws for sharing the road with school busses.  Section 3345(a) of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code, titled Meeting or Overtaking School Bus, explains these laws in detail.

Stopping for a School Bus
According to Section 3345(a) of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code, when either following or approaching a school bus from any direction, a motorist must stop at least 10 feet from a school bus which has its red lights flashing and stop arm extended.  The only exception to this rule is if the roadway is separated by a divider, such as a concrete divider or grass median.  With this exception is the expectation for the driver to remain alert for any students who may be entering or exiting the bus to cross over the divider.  There is some confusion as to whether or not a turning lane is considered a divider in this scenario.  The answer is no.  A good example of this type of roadway is College Avenue in State College, which is a four-lane road that also has a turning lane. Although there are more businesses than residences on certain portions of this road, it is well travelled by school busses.  A motorist travelling in any of these lanes must come to a complete stop when a nearby school bus has its red lights flashing and stop arm extended. 

Passing a School Bus
It is also very important to remember that at no point while a school bus is stopped with its red lights flashing and stop arm extended may a motorist pass a school bus.  Section 3345(a.1) of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code permits a school bus driver to file a written report of any violation of 3345(a) that he or she may observe.  Simply stated, just because a motorist does not see flashing police lights immediately after meeting or overtaking a school bus, does not mean that he or she will not be cited and penalized.

Consequences for Violating the Law
Whether a driver receives a citation immediately after an alleged violation or through the mail, he or she must enter a plea within ten days.  If a driver decides to enter a plea of guilty, the penalties for this violation include a $250 fine, five points on his or her driving record, and a 60-day license suspension.  If a driver decides that he or she would like to have a hearing on the matter, the driver must enter a not guilty plea and post $50.00 in collateral.  Shortly after doing so, the court will issue a summary trial notice.  For a situation in which a school bus driver filed a report, an attorney may be able to argue at the summary trial that the driver’s report was not credible and therefore the motorist must be found not guilty.  A good course of action for any motorist who receives a traffic citation is to speak with an experienced attorney to find out how the law applies in his or her situation.  The best course of action for all motorists is to familiarize themselves with the Motor Vehicle Code as it applies to school busses and the safety of our children.

Jason S. Dunkle has been a State College criminal defense lawyer since 2004.  His law office, JD Law, P.C., is located in downtown State College, within walking distance of the University Park Campus of Penn State University.  If you or someone you know has been charged with a DUI or other criminal offense, contact JD Law at (814) 954-1094 and schedule a FREE CONSULTATION


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