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Passing a School Bus

We have all been there. You are already running late for work when you observe a school bus traveling in the opposite direction slowly coming to a stop, with its stop arm extending and its red lights flashing. You come to a complete stop and wait for the children to board the school bus. Motorists behind you are honking their horns, urging you to proceed down the roadway. You start to question whether the law requires you to come to a stop. When traveling in the opposite direction from a school bus, your duty to stop depends on what type of roadway you are traveling on.

When does the law require you to stop?

Under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-217, the following motorists are required to stop for a school bus that is displaying its stop arm or flashing red lights:

  • All motorists following the school bus must stop, regardless of the type of roadway.
  • On two-lane roadways, motorists traveling in both directions must stop.
  • On two-lane roadways with a center turning lane, motorists traveling in both directions must stop.
  • On four-lane roadways without a median separation, motorists traveling in both directions must stop.
When are you allowed to pass a stopped school bus?

Under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-217, the following motorists are allowed to pass a school bus that is displaying its stop arm or flashing red lights:

  • On divided four-lane roadways with a median separation, motorists traveling in the opposite direction from the school bus are not required to stop.
  • On four-lane roadways with a center turning lane, motorists traveling in the opposite direction from the school bus are not required to stop.

However, a motorist entitled to pass a school bus still has a duty to act as a reasonably prudent driver and maintain a lookout for children crossing the roadway. Failure to exercise the degree of care of a reasonably prudent driver constitutes negligence on behalf of the motorist.

What is the penalty for unlawfully passing a school bus?

In North Carolina, unlawfully passing a school bus is a Class 1 misdemeanor, and the minimum fine imposed on the motorist is five hundred dollars ($500.00). In addition, under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-217, courts are not permitted to grant a prayer for judgment continued (PJC) to a motorist who has unlawfully passed a school bus. Common in traffic violations, a PJC permits a motorist to take responsibility for an infraction, yet avoid the fines, license points and insurance points that come with it. However, because a PJC is unavailable for this offense, a judge will be legally restricted to sentencing the $500 fine.This will likely result in higher insurance premiums, thereby creating a heavy financial burden on the driver.

If a motorist is convicted of unlawfully passing a school bus twice in a three-year period, the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can revoke the motorist’s license for one year. If a motorist is convicted a third time for this offense, the DMV may permanently revoke the motorist’s license, and the motorist is unable to apply for a license for two years.

If a driver was to fail to pay the $500 fine, the DMV withholds the registration renewal of a motor vehicle registered in the driver’s name. The registration renewal is withheld until the DMV is notified that the $500 fine has been paid. This could potentially lead to additional charges if the person were to continue driving on a suspended registration.

What should you do after being issued a citation for unlawfully passing a school bus?

The best thing you can do after being issued a citation for unlawfully passing a school bus is to contact one of the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC. Our experienced traffic attorneys are fighting on behalf of North Carolina drivers in courtrooms across Mecklenburg County and the greater Charlotte region nearly every day. We will fight for you, giving your case the individual attention that it deserves, and do everything we can to ensure that you have the best possible outcome. Call (704) 370-2828 to speak with someone at Arnold & Smith, PLLC today.