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Lawmakers Look To Double Fines For School Bus Safety Violations

The front windshield of a bright yellow school bus fills the frame of this photo.
Photo by Austin Pacheco on Unsplash

Fines could soon be doubled for people who drive around, or fail to stop for school buses with their stop arms out. A bill moving through the House has just one committee left to go.

Rep. Ardian Zika  (R-Land O'Lakes) says the numbers show, drivers aren't taking school bus safety seriously.

There were over 3,700 citations last year for passing a school bus and according to the Department of Education there were over 10,000 violations reported by school bus drivers,” Zika says.

Zika says when drivers see a school bus with its stop-arm out, the law requires them to stop. But he says many people seem to be in too big a hurry. He wants to double the fine to help ensure people are paying attention.

Fines for drivers who pass on the left side of the school bus would increase from $100 to $200 under a bill filed by Zika this legislative session.

If drivers pass on the right side—the side where kids get on and off the bus—Zika’s bill would double the fine from $200 to $400. But Rep. Joe Geller (D-Dania Beach) worries that might be going too far.

I really am very concerned about raising the fine to $400," Geller says. "If you’re buzzing past in your Porsche and you don’t really care, I don’t care. But I am worried about some single mom who is trying to get her kids to school who is driving and maybe didn’t pay as close attention as she should have. A $400 for a first offense—that keeps food off the table for people.”

"$400 is a lot of money, Representative Geller, but a life is more valuable."

Geller says he’d like to see an amendment that lets people opt into traffic school on a first offense—something he says costs less than $150 dollars and takes about four hours. But Rep. Barbara Watson (D-Miami) says a fine for such reckless behavior shouldn't be easy to pay.

“$400 is a lot of money, Representative Geller, but a life is more valuable,” Watson says.

For Watson, the issue feels personal. Her husband died last year after being hit by a car as a pedestrian. She says people need to understand when they drive around a school bus, they're risking the lives of the children getting on or off that bus. “When we pass on the right hand side we are talking about people exiting a bus who are completely distracted and thinking that they’re safe. To deliberately pass a bus on the right-had side can be life taking for a small child," she says.

In the past few years several high profile cases around the country have made national news after drivers struck and killed students who were crossing the street to board their school bus.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy covers healthcare and government in Tallahassee, Florida. She is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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