During the last legislative session, the General Assembly gave school districts the authority to install cameras on school buses designed to catch vehicles illegally passing a school bus. Let me start by saying I am all for enforcement of this law, as I am personally familiar with two cases resulting in serious injuries to children who were struck while a vehicle was illegally passing a school bus. The purpose of this article is not to address the merits of this law or its implementation. I do however want to take this opportunity to educate the public about the presence of these cameras and to brush up on the rules and penalties associated with these cases.
While there have been some initial technical glitches with the installation of these cameras (see MDJ article 09/07/2011), all indications are that these technical issues will be resolved no later than the printing of this article. These issues include capturing the license plate numbers of the violators, as well as the transmission of the data to an enforcement office who will process the violations. There are also some legal issues yet to be resolved, including who will prosecute the cases. Most traffic citations and code violations are handled by the State Court Solicitor’s office. Presently, the new stop arm camera law does not grant authority to the Solicitor’s office prosecute these camera only violations. For now, it appears that the violations will be considered civil in nature, rather than criminal. However, while we are on the topic, let’s address the criminal side of these laws.
The laws regarding a stopped school bus can be found in Chapter 9 of the DDS Handbook located on-line in PDF format at www.dds-ga.gov. The bottom line is that ALL traffic traveling in both directions must stop for a school bus once the flashing red signals are activated. The ONLY exception to this rule is traffic traveling in the opposite direction of a four-lane roadway with a fixed concrete median separation. If it is a four, six or even eight lane roadway with a center turn lane, all traffic in both directions must stop. The key is whether or not there is a safe place for children to stand in between the lanes of traffic traveling in different directions. For the purpose of clarification, a median would be any raised curb separating the lanes of travel. It can be filled in with grass and trees, or bricks or concrete, but it has to be above street level. The new faux bricks they are installing in the median of Highway 9 north of Roswell would not qualify unless there is a raised concrete curb.
Should you forget these rules, and you are cited for illegally passing a school bus, the penalties are severe. First, you will be required to make an appearance in court. You cannot phone in your credit card information to pay the fine or stop by the court on your lunch break. You must appear before the judge. If I am not mistaken, every current judge on the State Court Traffic Division bench has at least one child. They will have that in mind while talking to you about your traffic violation. Second, you will pay a fine up to $1,000 – the maximum allowed for most typical traffic offenses. Third, you will receive six (6) points on your license. A total of 15 points over the course of 24 months will result in your license being suspended. The legislature takes this very seriously. By contrast, reckless driving only carries four (4) points on your license. If you are under the age of 21 when you are convicted, your license will be suspended automatically regardless of points and you will lose your driving privilege.