A proposal under consideration at the General Assembly would increase penalties for South Carolina drivers who unlawfully pass stopped school buses. Photos by Carson Peaden.
South Carolina drivers may soon face doubled fines and tougher consequences for passing stopped school buses.
The proposed legislation, approved by the House and sent to the Senate last week, would increase penalties from $500 to $1,000 for drivers who unlawfully pass a stopped school bus. Repeat offenders for the misdemeanor conviction could face stiff fines from $2,500 to $5,000.
Since the beginning of this school year, there have been 1,150 reported instances of drivers illegally passing stopped school buses, according to the S.C. Department of Education.
Money collected from the fines would go toward the purchase of extended school bus stop arms. However, the collected fines would not be enough to pay for this initiative, as the education department estimates more than $10.5 million is needed. About 50 people were convicted for unlawfully passing a school bus from 2019-2020.
Additionally, the bill would allow the state superintendent of education to have a say in the placement of bus stop locations if they are deemed unsafe. This decision, proposed by Rep. Lin Bennett, R-Charleston, is intended to increase safety across the state, but stems from issues in her own district.
School districts now decide bus stop placements, but after the Charleston County school district refused to move a school bus stop when parents worried about its safety, Bennett stepped in with this bill to give the superintendent of education a say in bus stop placement.
Superintendent Molly Spearman declined to be interviewed, but said she is “supportive” of this addition and believes “the heightened fines will be a good deterrent” against drivers passing stopped buses.
State Driver Trainer Pete Rambo is also optimistic about the changes proposed in the legislation.
“Loading and unloading is the most dangerous time a child encounters in their daily school routine, with stop arm violators being our greatest threat,” Rambo said.
Rambo, who has worked in the transportation department at SCDE for the last decade, noted multiple changes throughout his career, including improvements for buses and driver training, and equipment upgrades such as external cameras. But, he notes one thing has always, and will always, remain the same – safety is the top priority.
“This bill is a huge necessity,” Rambo said. “Extended stop arms and better lighting will improve visibility and help get the attention of distracted or willfully aggressive drivers who endanger our most vulnerable.”
ABOUT THE JOURNALISTS
Carson Peaden is a senior multimedia journalist with a passion for the arts. From Charleston, S.C., she believes art is integral to a community and enjoys telling stories which highlight local artists and their craft. After working on Garnet & Black, UofSC’s magazine, Peaden acquired an interest in magazine writing and dreams of working for a local magazine. In her free time, she likes to read and write poetry and short stories.
Kaitlyn McCue is a multimedia journalist with a passion for investigative reporting. McCue has interned for the College of Engineering at the University of South Carolina as well as Congressman and House Whip James Clyburn. She is spearheading political research as a Magellan Scholar and plans to work in law to inspire others. She has taken on roles in editing, copywriting, communications strategy, and social media marketing, but her favorite part of being a journalist remains using her writing to give a voice to the voiceless.