STOP! It’s the law

Published 5:40 pm Monday, July 31, 2017

RALEIGH – Senate Bill 55, which is meant to improve safety for children on school buses, was signed into law by Governor Roy Cooper on July 25. Local district superintendents said in response to the new law that they appreciated the emphasis on student safety.

According to a press release from the governor’s office, “Senate Bill 55 will allow North Carolina school districts to install cameras on school buses to capture photos or footage of drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses.”

This measure is similar to the cameras on certain traffic signals which photograph drivers running red lights. As the law states, counties can pass an ordinance to install new cameras on their school district’s buses, though some districts scross North Carolina have the technology already in use.

The new law will also make it easier for school districts to hand this footage over to local law enforcement to issue civil citations or file criminal charges. Violators may be fined, issued a ticket, or criminally prosecuted depending on the seriousness of the infraction. Senate Bill 55 states that the fine amount will be $400 for the first offense, $750 for the second, and $1,000 for any following violations. Failure to pay on time will also add a late fee to the fine.

“Speeding past a stopped school bus puts children’s lives at risk, sometimes with tragic results,” Gov. Cooper said in a statement. “With this new law in place, we have another tool to help children who ride the school bus travel safely.”

Cooper has been advocating for this change as early as 2014 while in his position as the state Attorney General.

Northampton County School Superintendent Dr. Monica Smith-Woofter said that all their school buses already have cameras on the crossing arm at the front of the bus, and many have cameras installed on the inside as well. She hoped funding would be made available from the state in order to install these new cameras near the stop arm of the bus.

“I appreciate our legislators making it a priority to improve bus safety,” Smith-Woofter said in response to the new law.

Dr. William Wright, superintendent of Hertford County Schools, said they do not currently have cameras on all of their buses yet, but they would be looking at the budget to see how soon they could install new ones.

“We’ll have to work to see where the funding will come from,” Wright said.

There are other areas, he said, where he’d also like to see the General Assembly take action on to help Hertford County’s students.

“But we appreciate that this bill is designed to help improve safety,” Wright added, stressing its importance.

The School Bus and Traffic Safety division of the NCDMV provides more information about the state’s stop law. Traffic from both directions must stop for school buses on two-lane roadways, two-lane roadways with a center turning lane, and four-lane roadways without a median separation.

For divided highways of four lanes or more with a median separation or roadways of four lanes or more with a center turning lane, only the traffic following the bus must stop.

Statistics from show that school bus stop violations in Bertie, Gates, Hertford, and Northampton counties are relatively low, totaling less than 10 a year.