School Bus Confusion Reigns

Everybody makes mistakes. Even me. In today’s column, I’ll point out that the Legislature made a doozy of a mistake in the last session. The law they screwed up? Stopping for school buses loading and unloading. Unwittingly they passed a law that defies common sense, is antipodean to the past 100 years of driving history and expectations, and is contrary to all of our neighboring states (albeit they are Southern states and likewise do dumb stuff). So for now, I’ll tell you what the law says and it is up to you to take care to protect your kids.

The new law is thus: A school bus, stopped on the roadway, with it’s cute little “STOP” sign activated, loading and unloading children, need NOT be heeded IF the street has a center turn lane! You read that right. Even if the STOP sign has those flashing LED lights, you still NEED NOT STOP.

In the past, the law was that one did NOT stop for a school bus on the other side of a divided highway or a controlled access highway. But now, while enhancing the operation of bus cameras to catch violators, the Legislature mistakenly made it easier to ignore stopped school buses. IF there is a center turn lane.

Russell Parkway, which is a five lane (one lane is a center turn lane) road, maybe that law makes some sense because surely the bus isn’t expecting wee ones to cross that street from the north side to the south side to catch a bus. But what of Corder Road? Feagin Mill Road? Thomson Road? South Pleasant Hill Road? And a plethora of other three lane roads in Georgia, with a center lane? Those are mostly residential streets, with houses on both sides, with lots and lots of wee ones. The law NOW says that “[t]he driver of a vehicle upon a … divided highway, including but not limited to a highway divided by a turn lane… need not stop upon meeting or passing… [a stopped school bus.]” O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-6-163.

In 16 words, the Legislature has changed over 100 years of established policy, precedence, history, expectations and law. Now, if you STOP on Feagin Mill Road for a stopped school bus on the other side of the road, and you get rear ended, you could get a citation for unlawful stopping and sued by the person who hit you. Sure, they had a duty not to run into you, but you were illegally stopped on the road, so a jury could assign blame by a comparative fault analysis.

So in the rush that is the final days of the legislative session, this bill snuck through and we have a mess. They will fix it, I’m told. I will point out that Houston County’s Rep. Heath Clark (R-147) voted against the law. He’s told me before that he dislikes the rush of bills at the end of session and especially anything with cameras unless he has time to study it. So kudos to Heath on this one!

For you? Be especially careful with your kids this year if they ride the bus. It makes me ill when I hear about a child being hit by a car when attempting to load or unload from a bus. This law only creates confusion for drivers, so be the parent that solves the problem.

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