WRAL Investigates

In NC, few drivers found guilty of passing school buses

Posted August 24, 2015
Updated August 25, 2015

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— Each day, about 3,000 vehicles illegally pass stopped school buses in North Carolina, putting children’s lives in danger, according to research by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Last year, nearly 1,300 drivers in the state went to court for passing a school bus. Of those, only 379 drivers, or 29 percent, were found guilty of the charge, which carries a $500 fine and five points on a driver’s license.

When can you not pass a school bus? Find out in the N.C. school bus stop law.

School systems across the state have started using cameras to catch drivers, but WRAL Investigates found that still might not be enough to turn charges into convictions.

Many say the problem is in the courtroom. The initial cameras on buses only caught a driver's license plate. North Carolina is one of 14 states in the country where a license plate number is not enough to prosecute a driver. Instead, the driver must be identified.

That's a tougher standard than getting nabbed on a toll road, where a license plate number is enough to bill drivers. People can only get out of paying by submitting a signed legal document identifying someone else as the driver.

That standard is having a negative impact on conviction rates for passing stopped school buses. Last year, only 10 counties in the state convicted 50 percent or more of the drivers charged with passing a stopped bus, including Wake, Durham, Orange and Johnston counties.

In 2013, state lawmakers strengthened the penalties for drivers who blow by stopped buses. Now, state Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, is sponsoring legislation to hold drivers more accountable. Like a toll road, the bill puts more burden on the vehicle owner.

“It’s your car. You are responsible for that car,” Dollar said. “The purpose of this bill is to ensure that we can get those convictions.”

Cumberland County and others are now installing more comprehensive camera systems.

“(We have) one camera here that’s pointing towards the front of the bus. Directly underneath the stop arm here, there’s a camera that’s pointing out, capturing the picture of the driver and seeing who the driver of the vehicle is," said Charles Bell, Cumberland County Schools' transportation director.

The goal is to hold more offenders responsible.

“The courts will have the evidence and they will be convicted, and they're going to think twice about speeding around a stopped school bus and putting our children in danger,” Dollar said.

According to the state Department of Public Instruction, 7 percent of school buses across the state have multiple camera systems installed so far.

24 Comments

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  • John McCray Aug 25, 2015
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    Which is a separate crime unto itself.

  • Belle Boyd Aug 25, 2015
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    see I was taught everyone must stop. They never explained in detail who must stop and who doesn't. On the four lane I meant the ones that don't have medians just four lanes. Should of clarified. But yes we were always told everyone must stop and I don't think they ever covered four lane roads in drivers ed. I don't even remember if it is on drivers test. But thanks for clarification

  • Sean Creasy Aug 25, 2015
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    If someone is willing to let another person borrow their car that would do something like this and then try to protect that person by not telling the police who it was then the car's owner should undoubtedly have to face the punishment....

  • Angie Cox Aug 25, 2015
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    thanks for telling all the crazies out there who didn't do it before but will now due to this news article and the fact they more than likely won't get in trouble.

  • Roy Hinkley Aug 25, 2015
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    Weird, I attempted to quote Tripp Bridges. I originally clarified the law, Sean said I was wrong, and Tripp backed me up...and I was attempting to praise Tripp for their knowledge of the law.

  • Jim Halbert Aug 25, 2015
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    as already pointed out, the person you quoted was wrong. From the NC DOT DMV handbook it states along with a clear illustration that:
    "Roadway of four lanes or more with a center turning lane: When school bus stops for passengers, only traffic following the bus must stop."

  • John McCray Aug 25, 2015
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    Because an ordinary citizen can not raise a person's insurance rates, nor can an individual suspend a driver's license. A simple fine is one thing, but punitive damages to a driver who has committed no wrongdoing nor has any control over the other person, barring being in the car with them, is counter productive and against the idea of innocent until proven guilty. What do you do if a couple has both of their names on the vehicle, are both people fined and assessed points to their license for the infraction of one?

    What's next, holding car companies liable for people speeding? This is just a way to shift blame and inappropriately find a scapegoat. If a person can not be found guilty for passing a stopped school bus, then maybe prosecutors should consider criminal negligence charges against the owner of the vehicle if they feel they have strong enough legal footing.

  • Roy Hinkley Aug 25, 2015
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    I'm glad some folks know the rules.

  • Djofraleigh Anderson Aug 25, 2015
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    Maybe Rep. Nelson Dollar could make it so the state could confiscate the vehicle if the driver isn't identified by ID or admission?

  • Larry Price Aug 25, 2015
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    oops! misread it. only two get caught per day, so not so good!!

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