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School Bus Safety Bills Pass First House Panel

MGN Online

A pair of bills to increase school bus safety passed their first House committee Tuesday. 

Last year, as 16-year-old Cameron Mayhew was walking to his school bus in Fort Myers, a car hit him and he died a day later from his injuries.

“The stop sign was out, the lights were on,” said Rep. Dane Eagle (R-Cape Coral). “And, he was unfortunately struck and killed. The driver of the vehicle was penalized with a six month license suspension and $1,000 fine. Now, some might say justice wasn’t delivered that day.”

So, on behalf of Cameron’s parents, Eagle says he filed a bill to try to raise the minimum penalty for someone who strikes and kills or injures someone at a school bus stop. It’s called the Cameron Mayhew Act.

“The penalties would be a minimum of 120 hours of community service in a trauma center or a hospital,” Eagle added. “The driver would have to participate in a victim’s impact panel session. There would be fine of $1,500. There would be one-year driver’s license suspension, and there’d be six points on your license. Now, this would be in addition to any other charges that a prosecutor would decide to bring forward. But, this would at least be the bare minimum that someone would be delivered, if they strike and kill or injure someone at a school bus stop.”

Eagle’s bill unanimously passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Another school bus-related measure that got unanimous approval came from Rep. John Cortes (D-Kissimmee).

Citing a 2014 Florida school bus survey, Cortes says stopped school buses were passed more than 9,300 times in a single day.

“During these incidents, the buses had red lights flashing and stopped signs deployed,” he said. “According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, from 2004 to 2013, there were 1,344 people killed in school transportation-related crashes. That is an average of 134 fatalities per year.”

And, Cortes says current law treats the passing of stopped school buses on the side that kids enter and exit as a civil moving violation—subject to a $200 penalty for first offenses. So, his bill raises the penalties.

“HB 1427 reclassifies the passing of a stopped school buses on the side that children enter and exit as a reckless driving criminal offense,” Cortes added. “If found guilty of the first offense, the offender can be subject to $500 fines, imprisonment of up to 90 days. It’s my hope that this increased penalty will serve as a greater deterrent to behavior that puts that lives of our school children at risk.”

While Rep. Matt Willhite (D-Wellington) says it’s a good bill, he believes it could be better by including penalties for passing the opposite side of the stopped school bus as well.

“It talks about the side that the children enter or exit,” he said. “I think there’s still a great danger for the side that they cross as well. And, I would hope possibly that you would look at that as well because the school bus is the object that’s stopped to protect them. They step out in front of that, away from that to cross the secondary lane as possible and there’s still as much danger there as well, I think.”

And, Cortes says he’s willing to look into making that change.

Meanwhile, the Senate companions to both Cortes and Eagle’s bills have not yet had a committee hearing.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.