New Bill Increases Penalties for Ignoring School Bus Safety Laws

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The beginning of the school year has arrived along with a new bill introduced in the Florida House of Representatives, HB 37, that would double the civil penalties for ignoring school bus stop signals.[1]  Under current law, a driver who illegally passes a stopped school bus could be fined a minimum of $100, and repeat offenders are subject to a driver-license suspension of 90 days to 6 months.  The new legislation proposes increasing the fine to $200 and the suspension to between 180 days and 1 year.  Similarly, a driver who currently passes a stopped bus on its door side while the stop signal is displayed can be fined a minimum of $200, with repeat offenders subject to a driver-license suspension of 180 days to 1 year.  The new bill similarly proposes to double both penalties to $400 and a 360-day to 2-year suspension, respectively.  HB 37 is expected to be considered during the next regular legislative session which convenes on Tuesday, January 14, 2020.

The legislation is in response to an increase in drivers who ignore school bus stop signals and an increase in school bus crashes.  From 2012 to 2018 there were 21,171 school bus involved accidents in Florida.  In response, sheriff offices in several Central Florida counties have increased officer patrols to target drivers who fail to stop for school buses[2].  For the most part, the failure of drivers to stop is the result of driver distraction and not knowing the law.[3] 

Earlier this year the legislature took action to reduce driver distraction by prohibiting the use of “a wireless communications device in a handheld manner in a designated school crossing, school zone, or work zone area….”[4]  The new law takes effect on October 1, 2019, but drivers will receive warnings through the end of the year.[5]  Come 2020, drivers using their phones or other handled devices in a restricted zone will be fined a minimum of $60 and be assessed 3 points against their licenses.[6]

As for knowing the law, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles publishes a simple graphic (see below) explaining what drivers are required to do based on the type of road.

Courtesy of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles

Staying alert and knowing the traffic laws will help keep school children safe, reduce school-bus related accidents, and help drivers avoid fines and driver license points and suspensions.