Wake County

Wake County wants you to pay a new fine if you illegally pass a stopped school bus

A car drives past a school bus fitted with exterior cameras while the stop arm is extended during a demonstration of the new cameras in April 2015.
A car drives past a school bus fitted with exterior cameras while the stop arm is extended during a demonstration of the new cameras in April 2015. cseward@newsobserver.com

Drivers who illegally pass a stopped school bus in Wake County could soon be forced to pay a new fine.

Wake County commissioners on Monday unanimously approved a resolution that supports issuing civil penalties to drivers who are caught on bus-mounted cameras going around a school bus. The county now hopes to work with Wake school leaders to create an ordinance.

A new state law passed this summer allows counties to issue the penalties, and Wake would be the first to make the change. The law sets a standard schedule of civil penalties starting at $450 for the first offense, $750 for the second offense and $1,000 for the third and all subsequent offenses. Money collected will go to school systems in counties that choose to issue the fines.

“There are already criminal penalties in place under state law,” said Commissioner Greg Ford, a former teacher and administrator for Wake schools. “What this new law did is create civil penalties on top of that. It’s a further deterrent.”

If the county and school system decide to move forward, they would have to mount cameras on school buses and work out an automatic citation and payment system to collect money from drivers. The system would issue civil fines in much the same way cameras at some intersections are used to automatically mail citations to drivers who go through red lights.

In discussions at the General Assembly, some legislators said they worried that using cameras to issue civil penalties set a different standard of evidence than would be used if the driver had been pulled over by a law enforcement officer. Democratic Sen. Elmer Floyd of Fayetteville also called the measure a “cash cow bill” for counties and school districts.

Since 1999, 13 North Carolina students getting on or off school buses have been killed by passing motorists. Last school year, cars passing stopped school buses across the state seriously injured five students.

Daily, 3,000 to 3,500 automobiles illegally pass stopped school buses.

On Monday, Wake commissioners’ support for the fines came without reservation.

“Nothing infuriates us more than to have a school bus passed needlessly by drivers who are putting our greatest assets at risk,” Commissioner Sig Hutchinson said. “We love our children, and we obviously want to do all we can to protect them.”

Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan

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