Written by Cory Watson
Friday, 30 October 2009 09:44
The North Carolina Highway Patrol is once again working with Watauga County Schools to ensure the safety of its children on buses.
It’s part of an effort by the Highway Patrol over recent weeks to crack down on drivers who pass stopped school buses with a mechanical stop sign extended.
"Some of these people that are worried about the inconvenience of waiting for a stopped school bus ought to ask themselves 'what if I hit a child?,'" Delmar James, Cove Creek School bus driver, said at a meeting Tuesday between the Highway Patrol and Watauga County Schools Transportation Department officials.
James worked with other members of the two groups to help identify local problem areas where passing a stopped school bus is common. Those areas are now being targeted for increased monitoring and enforcement.
Unmarked law enforcement vehicles are following school buses on some routes and cameras have been placed on buses to provide video evidence of violations, said Marshall Ashcraft, Watauga County Schools spokesman, in a press release Friday.
In addition to tougher enforcement of regulations on the road, stiffer prosecution in court will also follow. Drivers hoping to catch a break when a case comes to trial will be disappointed, as violators can no longer receive a Prayer for Judgment for passing a stopped school bus under any circumstance. They'll be found guilty of a Class I Misdemeanor, and any person who passes a stopped school bus and strikes a person will be found guilty of a Class I Felony.
A conviction also adds five points to a driver's license, with eight being added to those operating commercial vehicles.
The Highway Patrol estimates a fine of up to $200 and an increase by more than 80 percent in a driver's auto insurance bill.
Ashcraft encouraged drivers to remember that stopping for a stopped school bus is not a simple matter of “stop and go.” Vehicles approaching a school bus displaying its mechanical stop signal and flashing red lights must stop and remain stopped until the flashing red lights are off, the stop signal is not displayed, and the bus has resumed movement.