Georgia Amends Laws Regarding Passing a School Bus

A bill signed by Georgia Governor Kemp regarding laws pertaining to passing a school bus went into effect in February.  This new bill amended a law enacted in July 2018 which allowed motorists to not stop for a school bus under certain circumstances. The previous law allowed drivers who were traveling in the opposite direction on a road divided by a turning lane to continue driving—even when a school bus was stopped to load or unload students. The vague language of this law had many drivers failing to stop for Georgia school buses regardless of circumstances. 

The new bill requires drivers to stop on bothsides of the highway when a school bus is loading or unloading. The only exception to this new law is when a physicalbarrier exists, dividing the two directions of traffic (a grass median, concrete wall or other type of physical barrier). GA SB25 was sponsored by Senator Bill Heath, and approved by the Georgia Senate on February 7th, by a House Committee on February 12th, and by the full body on February 13th

Prior Law Endangers Students

After the prior law went into effect last summer, there were two reported incidents of drivers hitting students during the loading or unloading of a school bus. A 13-year-old middle school student was hit by a car while boarding a school bus, and two Colquitt County brothers were hit by a vehicle                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              last October while crossing the road to board a school bus. The middle school girl from the first school bus accident suffered injuries but was conscious as she was transported to the hospital. In the Colquitt County accident, the ten-year-old brother died from his injuries while the younger brother suffered serious injuries. As is still the case in many other states, until the recent amendment, drivers were not required to stop for school bus loading or unloading when traveling in the opposite direction when a middle turning lane existed. 

Penalties for Passing a Stopped School Bus

More than 83 percentof those who participated in a recent survey ranked illegal passing as the biggest concern of school bus drivers. For drivers, not only do you risk injuring or killing a child when you pass a stopped school bus, you could also face serious criminal and civil penalties. You could be assessed a court fee from $300 to $1,000 (plus court costs and surcharges), you could face jail time of up to one year, you could acquire up to six points on your driving record, and, if you are a driver younger than 21, you could have your driver’s license suspended. You could also be assessed a civil penalty up to $250. 

The Serious Nature of Passing a School Bus Charges

Georgia prosecutors take passing school bus cases extremely seriously, due to the obvious risk to children. Despite this, if you have been charged with passing a school bus—or any other major traffic violations, including DUI—your situation is not hopeless. If you have a good driving record, your Georgia criminal defense attorney could potentially be able to have the charges reduced to a less-serious offense which does notadd six points to your driving record and does notresult in a license suspension. Because the offense is a misdemeanor, a Georgia judge has fairly wide latitude regarding the penalties associated with the offense.   

How Attorney Melanie Ellwanger Can Help

It is important to remember that once you see flashing red lights and extended stop signs on a school bus, it is unlawful to pass the stopped school bus from either directionunless the highway is divided by a physical median or barrier. If, however, you have been cited for passing a school bus, it is important to speak to a knowledgeable Georgia criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible. Further, while unlawful passing of a school bus is a serious charge, it can also be a predicate offense to a more serious DUI offense. 

Working with a knowledgeable Georgia criminal defense attorney is your best line of defense when the stakes are so high. Attorney Melanie Ellwanger will aggressively defend your passing a school bus charges as well as DUI charges. Melanie has a unique perspective on these cases, resulting from time spent as a prosecutor, defense attorney and judicial candidate. ContactMelanie Ellwanger at (404)803-3105 for dedicated, knowledgeable, experienced legal representation.