Now that kids are back in school, Georgia’s roads and highways are once again teeming with the bright, orangish-yellow buses that ferry children to and from school. Nearly the size of a tractor-trailer and equipped with colorful signs and flashing lights, school buses are difficult to miss. While drivers see school buses, they do not always stop for them, and that is dangerous and against the law.
Nevertheless, every school year careless motorists fail to give school buses their due respect. We have probably all seen it—drivers ignoring the STOP sign projected out on the side of the bus and speeding around it—this is not only illegal, but also incredible unsafe. In fact, the consequences of such carelessness range from fines imposed upon the offending drivers to needless tragedies involving young passengers.
In general, Section 40-6-163 of the Georgia Code requires drivers traveling in either direction on a roadway to stop for a school bus when the bus driver has activated the bus’s visual signals—blinking red lights and retractable stop signs. Drivers are not permitted to proceed until the bus resumes motion or the bus driver deactivates the visual signals. As a notable exception to this rule, drivers on a highway divided by a grass or concrete median are not required to stop for school buses traveling in the opposite direction.
Several metro Atlanta school districts have installed cameras on school buses to catch violators. Convictions for illegally passing a school bus can carry hefty penalties including fines up to $1,000.00 and 6 points on the offender’s driving record. In addition, drivers under the age of 21 who illegally pass a school bus risk having their driver’s license suspended.
There are no official statistics showing how many children are hurt each year by drivers failing to stop for school buses, but the problem is growing, especially in Georgia.
As recently as 2014, a study ranked Georgia #1 in the nation for school bus passing violations. In 2015, officials in Gwinnett County issued 23,307 citations and collected approximately $2 million in fines using bus-mounted cameras. In the first month of the 2016-2017 school year, Cobb County officials counted 2,241 school bus passing violations—a 31 percent increase over the previous year.
The consequences of illegally passing a school bus do not begin and end with fines and license suspensions. In the last few years, a five-year-old girl was killed in Cobb County by a driver who failed to stop for the girl’s school bus, and similar incidents have happened in Augusta, Douglas County, and all around Georgia. Tragedies like this are rare, but entirely preventable—all the drivers had to do was follow the law, stop the car, and be patient.
So, give the big yellow bus with the blinking red lights its due respect. Follow the law, pay attention (and keep off your cell phone!), and stop for school buses when you are required to—maybe even stop for them even if you are not sure—after all, it could save a child’s life. The safety of the young kids onboard is worth a few seconds of your time.