COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA)—A subcommittee of the South Carolina Senate unanimously passed a bill Thursday to make it easier to enforce the state’s law against illegally passing a stopped school bus.
Some school buses have cameras on board that record video or shoot still pictures of drivers who illegally pass a bus that has its stop-arm out. Under current law, the state can mail a ticket to a driver who breaks that law only if the driver is identifiable in photos or video. “Given that we don’t control the weather or daylight, sunlight, glare, tinting of windows, it’s pretty much impossible to get that 100 percent identification of the driver,” says Wes Fleming, Director of Transportation for Berkeley County schools and the president of the SC Association of Pupil Transportation.
Under this bill, the state Department of Public Safety could mail a civil citation to the registered owner of the vehicle without having to identify the driver. The owner would be able to fill out a sworn affidavit that the vehicle was stolen or that someone else was driving. If someone else was driving, the owner would have to provide the driver’s name and address.
The maximum fine for a first offense would be $250.
Bill Kurts, Director of Transportation for Lexington District One, says a 2016 statewide survey of school districts found that an average of 37 percent of buses saw vehicles illegally passing while their stop arms were out. “If we take that 37% average and include all the school buses in our state, that would equate to 2,146 violations a day,” he says.
But according to the SC Highway Patrol, in 2016 only 46 citations were issued for stop arm violations.
Jada Garris, a school bus driver and spokesperson for the Stop Arm Violation Education and Enforcement campaign, says, “Georgia has been using civil penalties now for four years with great success. Studies show that 99 percent of violators fined with a civil penalty do not repeat the offense.”
Sen. Greg Hembee, R-Little River, chairman of the subcommittee, said before the vote, “We’ve tried another method. That didn’t work, so now, in my view, it’s time to move on to a more rigorous enforcement approach.”
The bill now goes to the full Senate Transportation Committee. The same subcommittee passed the same bill last year but not until May, which was too late for it to make it through the full Senate and House.