Several school districts in the Charlotte metro area head back to school this Monday morning. In North Carolina, students in Ashe County and Avery County start school. In South Carolina schools in Lancaster, Chester, Fort Mill, Chesterfield, and Clover counties will also resume.
The school year brings the typical symptoms: back-to-school sales, first-day jitters, new teachers, homework, and tests. But many drivers are unaware that they need to pay more attention during the school year than during the summer break. School buses are everywhere, as are School Zones.
It’s important to remember the proper rules when encountering a school bus on its route. In NC passing a stopped school bus is regulated under NCGS § 20-217. You MUST come to a complete stop when a school bus is displaying its flashing red lights, stop arm, and loading/unloading children. You MUST remain stopped until the lights are deactivated, the stop arm retracted, and the bus begins to move. This law applies to any driver approaching that bus from any direction on the same street, highway, or public vehicular area (e.g., parking lot).
There is one important exception that goes forgotten or misunderstood. The driver of a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction from the school bus, upon any road, highway or city street that has been divided into two roadways, so constructed as to separate vehicular traffic between the two roadways by an intervening space (including a center lane for left turns if the roadway consists of at least four more lanes) or by a physical barrier, NEED NOT STOP upon meeting and passing any school bus that has stopped in the roadway across the dividing space or physical barrier.
Passing a stopped school bus is a Class 1 misdemeanor and carries a minimum fine of $500. Passing a stopped school bus and striking any person is a Class I felony and carries a minimum fine of $1,250. If you pass a stopped school bus and kill a pedestrian, you’ll be guilty of a Class H felony which carries a minimum fine of $2,500. A Prayer for Judgment Continued (PJC) has been outlawed for passing a stopped school bus.
In addition to the big yellow school buses, it’s important to pay attention to your speed while traveling in a School Zone. School Zones are regulated by NCGS § 20-141.1. Special speed limits set pursuant to this statute become effective when signs are erected giving notice of the school zone, the authorized speed limit, and the days and hours when the lower limit is effective. School Zones may also be designated by erecting signs giving notice of the school zone, the authorized speed limit, and the days and hours the lower limit is effective by flashing lights controlled by a time clock.
A conviction for speeding in a School Zone is an infraction which carries a fine of $250.
It is important to remember that, in addition to the fines and penalties set by the courts, the Division of Motor Vehicles will assess license points for these offenses, and your automobile insurance premium could potentially double or triple.
It’s important to know your rights and the strength of your case if you’re charged with violating one of these statutes. Call criminal/traffic defense attorney Mark Lawson at Phillips and McCrea (980-225-9070) today to set up your free consultation.