RALEIGH — A first-year legislator from Union County is tired of getting stuck behind slow-poke school buses on high-speed highways, so he’s pushing legislation to let school bus drivers go faster.
State law sets 45 mph as the top legal speed for school buses that have children aboard, and 55 mph for school activity buses. Buses going those speeds are common sights on Triangle highways where most traffic is going at least the speed limit of 65 or 70 mph.
Drivers are allowed to go the posted speed limit if there are no children on the bus, but most school buses are equipped with speed governors that make 45 mph the permanent top speed.
“Slow-moving buses are a hazard,” Rep. Mark Brody, a Republican from Mineral Springs, told House Transportation Committee members Tuesday. His bill would make 55 mph the top speed for all school buses.
North Carolina’s neighboring states allow faster speeds for school buses carrying children, Brody said: 55 mph in South Carolina and Georgia, 60 mph in Virginia, and the posted speed limits in Tennessee and Florida.
Brody works as a contractor in Union County. He said he frequently finds himself driving his truck and equipment trailer behind three to five buses on interstate highways.
“I have to veer around them and turn and get back,” Brody said. “When you’re on the expressway and it’s really busy, it’s really difficult – acceleration and then brake. And basically it’s a personal issue for me. I observed it, and I bring it before you now.”
The committee debated the proposal but postponed its vote. A few legislators agreed with Brody’s argument that North Carolina school bus drivers can be trusted to travel safely at higher speeds.
“The idea that these drivers are gonna go willy-nilly out there is disrespectful to the school bus drivers, who are professional drivers, who simply won’t do that,” said Rep. Charles Jeter, a Republican from Huntersville.
Unwilling to be hasty
Brody found plenty of opposition from legislators who feared that faster buses would put children in danger.
“Now, as a father of a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old, I don’t care if they get there 10 minutes early or 5 minutes late. I just care that they get home,” said Rep. Mike Stone, a Republican from Sanford. “I kind of like it the way it is. I veer left to go around them, and so does everybody else.”
Rep. Ken Goodman, a Democrat from Rockingham, asked Brody whether he could offer evidence showing that slow school buses have caused accidents.
“We tried to look for that, and it is quite odd,” Brody replied. “If somebody’s going around the school bus and it causes an accident, the school bus just continues down the road. ... That’s the problem with identifying that type of thing.”
And so, Goodman replied, “there is no data to support the idea that they cause accidents on the highway.”
Reps. Becky Carney and Rodney Moore, both Democrats from Charlotte, said the legislature should not move hastily.
“I’ve yet to see where the present system has become such a hindrance to motorists that we need to make a change right now,” Moore said.
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