AAA Mid-Atlantic News Release
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LAWMAKERS POISED TO MAKE IT EASIER FOR POLICE TO TICKET DRIVERS THAT ILLEGALLY PASS STOPPED SCHOOL BUSES
AAA and 61 Percent of Motorists Support Cracking Down on School Bus Safety
RICHMOND, VA - (Thursday, March 03, 2016) A bill making its way through the Virginia General Assembly, if passed, would allow police departments to mail summonses to the owners of vehicles caught on camera illegally passing stopped school buses. Pending legislation would refine the current law, passed in 2011, that authorizes localities to utilize cameras on school buses to enforce the law. The current law, however does not specifically state that citations could be mailed, thus they must be served in person by a law enforcement officer.
Cameras on buses in Virginia
Some localities in Virginia, after initiating programs to use cameras to deter unsafe drivers when the 2011 law was passed, had to put programs on hold. Albemarle County postponed the implementation of their program in October of last year when County Attorney Larry Davis determined that the law did not properly address whether tickets could be mailed. Attorney General Mark R. Herring agreed that under the code as written, citations must be delivered in person. The City of Falls Church and Chesterfield County put the brakes on their program for the same reason. The following counties have either explored or implemented a program: Arlington, Falls Church, Petersburg, Hopewell, Prince George, Fairfax County, Chesterfield, Winchester, and Albemarle.
As of January this year, at least 14 states authorize local jurisdictions to deploy school bus stop-arm cameras. Changing Virginia law will send a message that the safety of students is a priority among lawmakers.
Public Supports Change in the Law
AAA and 61 percent of motorists polled in Virginia within the past month, support the change as a way to address what has become a serious safety concern. According to the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services 5th annual survey, it is estimated that more than 14 million drivers illegally pass stopped school buses each school year, putting students in danger. “Watching just one video of a child narrowly missed by a car flying past a stopped school bus will convince most people that this issue needs to be addressed. Thinking of that same scenario happening millions of times each year is horrific,” noted Martha Mitchell Meade, Manager Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Enhancing the current law will not only allow police to address the issue but should also make people think before ignoring the law and putting children in danger.”
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Bills to move the issue forward were introduced in both the House of Delegates (LaRock) and the Senate (Carrico). In the House of Delegates, Delegate Dave A. LaRock took the lead. “I am honored to support the General Assembly’s ongoing commitment to protect children boarding and exiting school buses. Permitting efficient and effective enforcement of laws to deter drivers from illegally passing stopped school buses will create greater public awareness on school bus safety.”
School Bus Cameras Work – Driver Behaviors Change
Chesterfield County, VA conducted a pilot program with 50 buses outfitted with cameras from March 19 – May 11, 2015. In that time period, law enforcement officers reviewed a total of 367 probable offender images captured by school bus cameras. Of those, 93% would have been valid citations if the program had been live. When projecting the number of violations if the county’s entire fleet of buses had been outfitted over an entire school year, the number of drivers who would have been caught illegally passing stopped buses would have been 10,000 per year.
Dallas, Texas implemented a camera program starting in 2012. In the first year of the program almost 27,000 citations were issued, a clear indication that a safety problem existed. After the first year, however, the number of citations dropped by almost 25 percent as drivers began to change their driving behavior.
Penalties for Passing Stopped Bus/Ticket Logistics Under New Law
Drivers cited for passing a stopped school bus in Virginia are subject to a civil penalty of $250. Final wording regarding how citations are handled when the owner of the car is not driving at the time of the infraction is still being discussed. “AAA supports language which allows the owner of the vehicle to refute the ticket if they were not behind the wheel and that instructions on how vehicle owners are to proceed in this case are provided with the citation,” added Meade. The change also parallels current authority in the Virginia Code (§15.2-968.1) that permits mailing summonses for similar traffic violations, such as the running of a red light and parking violations, etc.
School Buses are Still Safe
AAA reminds parents that school buses remain are the safest way to get children to and from school. Students are about 50 times more likely to arrive at school alive if they take the bus than if they drive themselves or ride with friends. However, children are at greatest risk when they are getting on or off the school bus. From 2004 to 2013, three times more non-occupants (i.e., pedestrians) than occupants of school buses were killed in school transportation-related incidents.
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AAA Mid-Atlantic serves nearly 837,000 members in the Commonwealth of Virginia and is the nation’s fifth largest auto club with over 3.7 million members in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. It provides a wide range of personal insurance, travel, financial and automotive services through its 50-plus retail stores regional operations centers, and the Internet. For more information on AAA Mid-Atlantic, please visit our web site at www.AAA.com. Persons wanting to comment on this issue can go to AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Community pages at http://www.AAA.com/community and post comments. The organization is anxious to hear from travelers with their thoughts on this subject and others.
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Phone: (804) 323-6510