Passing a school bus is one of the most severe traffic citations an individual can receive in Pennsylvania. Police in PA have zero-tolerance for drivers illegally passing a school bus, as violations of this law place children at a direct risk of serious physical injury. The penalties a person is subject to for a violation can be devastating, as the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) includes additional penalties such as license suspensions and points on a driver’s license.
Passing, Meeting, or Overtaking a School Bus in PA
75 Pa. C.S. § 3345(a) defines the offense of Meeting or Overtaking a School Bus, which is graded as a summary offense in PA. The law states that if driving on a highway (any publicly maintained roadway) or trafficway (any customarily driven way open to the public), the driver of a vehicle “meeting or overtaking” a school bus must stop at least 10 feet from the bus when the red signal lights are flashing and the signal arms are activated, even if a road has painted lines or ridged/grooved road dividers. A driver approaching an intersection where a school bus is stopped must also stop at that intersection until the flashing red lights are no longer activated.
- “Meeting” a school bus means that a driver is in the opposing lane facing a school bus;
- “Overtaking” a school bus means a driver is behind a school bus and passes the bus in the same direction of travel.
The red lights on a school bus signals all other drivers that the bus is stopped for the purpose of receiving or dropping off school children, or persons with disabilities, and are not turned off until those passengers are safely aboard the bus or at a place of safety.
Amber lights are activated prior to a bus stopping to receive or discharge school children and stay on until the red lights are activated. Section 3345(b) permits drivers already proceeding past school busses as the amber signals are activated to complete such passes, even where a bus driver subsequently activates the red signals and stop signal arm, so long as the driver can do so safely and without endangering children approaching or leaving the area of the bus.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed this issue in Commonwealth v. Schlegel, 577 Pa. 321, 325 (2004) and stated that once a driver encounters an already stopped school bus with amber flashing lights, the driver must stop at least 10 feet from the bus in accordance with Section 3345(a). The Court considered 3345(b) to be analogous to the treatment of light signals found elsewhere in the PA Vehicle Code, such as a steady yellow traffic light at an intersection being a warning that the green light is being terminated or that a red light will be activated immediately afterward.
When Does a Driver Not Have to Stop?
While the law seems quite clear when a driver must stop for a school bus with flashing lights, there are many situations where it may be unclear whether a driver must stop or not. If unsure whether a driver must stop, it is always better to be safe and stop, however Pennsylvania law states that a driver is not required to stop for a school bus when that driver is on a separated portion of a clearly divided/separated highway or trafficway. This can be identified by physical barriers (such as concrete medians, guard rails, etc.) or medians which have trees, shrubs, grass, streams, etc.
PennDOT has published diagrams and details of these situations at: http://www.dmv.state.pa.us/pdotforms/fact_sheets/fs-pub97.pdf
Penalties for Passing a School Bus in PA
If cited for illegally passing/overtaking or meeting a school bus in PA, a driver may be subject to a litany of penalties through both the court and PennDOT. However, with the help of a PA passing a school bus lawyer, it may be possible to lessen the following penalties:
- Driver is guilty of a summary offense;
- $250.00 fine;
- 60-day license suspension period; and
- 5 points added to driver’s license
PennDOT maintains a driving record for every licensed driver in PA. Points are added to a driving record when a driver is found guilty of certain driving violations, such as meeting or overtaking a school bus, and upon accumulation of a certain number of points, a driver is subject to additional penalties. Find out more about PennDOT’s point system.
PA Passing a School Bus Lawyer
The immediate assistance of a skilled lawyer is advisable whenever a person is charged with a traffic-based summary offense in PA. As stated above, a conviction may result in fines, the assignment of points, a suspension/revocation of a driver’s license, as well as affecting a driver’s insurance rates. This is a potentially serious issue, as these penalties can have a lasting effect on a driver’s ability to commute to work every day or maintain employment, as well as possibly causing a lasting increase to insurance payments. An experienced attorney can work with you, the court, the prosecution, and PennDOT to possibly have fines reduced, citations dismissed, charges lessened, and/or points decreased.
The skilled attorneys at The Martin Law Firm understand that the criminal and administrative penalties an individual faces for illegally passing a school bus are harsh and an instant lapse in judgment may have a driver facing serious penalties. Our lawyers are well experienced with traffic offenses in PA and can evaluate the facts surrounding any citation and can provide the assistance to resolve this issue in the most favorable light. If you or a loved one has been charged with passing a school bus in PA, contact the dedicated attorneys at The Martin Law Firm at 215-646-3980.