News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Stiffer penalties for passing stopped school bus justified

Under a new state law taking effect today, drivers who pass a stopped school bus will face much stiffer penalties than those previously imposed.

The possible tragic consequences of such actions justify the enhanced punishment.

Until today, city and county laws made it a violation to pass a stopped school bus. Fines and penalties varied across the state.

The new law mandates a uniform penalty of $150 to $300 for a first offense; $300 to $500, a 30-day license suspension and 100 hours of community service for a second violation; and a fine of $500 to $1,000, a 90-day license suspension and 200 hours of community service for a third.

A fourth offense would be a felony punishable by a fine of up to $3,000 and a year license suspension.

In our hectic lives, when we are often rushing from one appointment to the next, it is inconvenient to have to stop and wait for children to get on or off a school bus. We are tempted to slowly ease by the vehicle to stay on schedule.

But the size of buses hinders visibility and the tendency of schoolchildren to dart out without looking makes for a dangerous situation. The hazard is aggravated by the fact that there tends to be a lot of traffic near schools around 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., when children are exiting or boarding buses.

Since 1998, passing motorists have killed four schoolchildren and injured seven others in Alabama. That is 11 accidents too many.

If the stiffer penalties make even one motorist think better of the temptation to pass a stopped bus, then they are doing the job.

A suggestion to judges who impose sentences on offenders: Require them to perform their community service by helping children board and exit school buses. That might help reinforce the state's position that our children's safety must always trump motorists' convenience.

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