If Gabby’s Law passes the Florida Legislature, drivers that illegally pass a stopped school bus could wind up in jail. The bill is named for Gabby Mair who was hit and killed shortly after exiting a school bus in 2010. The bill proposes to raise the fines for illegally passing a stopped school bus from $265 to $500 for a first time offense and up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail for a second offense. If the law passes, through both the house and senate without opposition, it could be law by July of 2015.
The safety of children at bus stops should be constantly evaluated. Several times per year it seems that I read about a driver either illegally passing a school bus or speeding near school bus stops where children are present and the tragic results of such interactions. School busses have flashing lights and stop signs that extend out from the bus to alert drivers to stop, but I have witnessed many drivers in St. Petersburg and all through Pinellas County simply ignoring the law and illegally passing busses. In my mind, this is an unreasonably dangerous action that deserves harsh penalties.
When Must a Driver Stop for a Stopped School Bus?
Why would anyone illegally pass a bus with children present? Although, I have no studies to rely upon, it would seem to be a matter of ignorance, distraction or stupidity and recklessness. In some instances, drivers simply may not be aware of when they are required to stop. Ignorance is fairly straightforward to address and I believe that a better job can be done to educate drivers. Florida Law is fairly simple regarding when a driver must stop as they approach a stopped school bus. It starts with the basic premise that all traffic, in both directions, must stop when approaching a stopped school bus with its signals lit. The law does not make an exception for larger roads. The law does not make exception for four lane roads. Both sides of traffic must stop until the bus turns off the signals. The only exception allowed for, by Florida Law, is that on a divided road with at least 5 feet of unpaved median, a raised median or a physical barrier, cars travelling in the opposite direction of the bus are not required to stop. This is the only time a driver is permitted to pass a stopped school bus with the signals lit.
I have blogged previously on distracted drivers and will not go into great depth here except to say, distracted drivers are dangerous. In our world of instant gratification, it seems that everyone believes that they must have the information immediately. Does anyone remember the days of lively debate that could not be resolved until you got home and got your hands on an almanac or encyclopedia? My 12 year old daughter does not even know what an almanac or an encyclopedia is or how to use one. Unfortunately, this “get it now” mentality will not even let the majority of the population drive without texting, talking, using the internet or getting email. Driving is never the time to be distracted, but it is particularly dangerous when children are present.
The chronically stupid and reckless drivers will only learn through negative reinforcement. For that reason, I hope Gabby’s Law passes, as more stringent laws and stiffer penalties may be the best avenue to address this segment of the population.
Education of Children
Although, school aged children are impulsive, unpredictable and just generally unaware of their surroundings, there must be a concerted effort to educate them. There are a few basic tips that all children should be taught:
1. Children should always have all of their belongings inside their backpack;
2. Children should always arrive to the bus stop 5 minutes early, as this will eliminate the need to chase down a bus while ignoring their surroundings;
3. Children should walk in groups, if possible, to the bus stop;
4. Children should never cross the street until the bus has completely stopped and the signals are lit;
5. Children always cross the street in front of the bus, never behind it;
6. Children should stand at least 10 feet off the road when waiting for the bus; and
7. Children should not rough house at the bus stop.
Education, in conjunction with more stringent laws, will help protect our children.
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