It’s 7:20 in the morning and you have 10 minutes until you’re late for an important meeting. As you enter through Pence Gate, you breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you’ll make it in the nick of time. That’s when you see it, the yellow school bus with its red safety lights flashing and fold-out stop sign extended. You don’t see any children darting across the street, so you decide to pass the school bus. After all, no harm, no foul.
This is an all too common occurrence on Fort Belvoir, as the number of drivers cited for passing a stopped school bus has increased dramatically. In the morning rush to get to the office, many drivers fail to realize that Fort Belvoir is, in part, a huge residential community with thousands of school-age children who take the bus to school every morning and back home every afternoon. A driver who passes a loading or unloading school bus will be issued a traffic citation and charged with a violation of U.S. Code, Section 13, assimilating Virginia State Code 46.2-859, a class 1 misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 1 year of confinement, a $2,500 fine, and a $25 special assessment.
The driver will be required to appear before a federal magistrate judge at the Federal District Court in Alexandria, where he/she may incur thousands of dollars in attorney fees. Additionally, since passing a loading/unloading school bus is considered reckless driving, the driver will also incur 6 points on their license. All of a sudden, being five minutes late for a meeting sounds like a bargain.
Under Virginia law, a motorist must stop when a school bus has its warning devices activated and must remain stopped until the school bus is put back into motion. The only exceptions to this law are where the motorist is approaching the school bus from the opposite direction on a divided highway or instructed to do so by a police officer. A divided highway is one where there is some type of physical barrier between the opposing lanes. The fact that there are multiple lanes between you and the school bus does not satisfy this exception.
So, next time you want to save a few minutes by passing a loading/unloading school bus, think twice about the possible repercussions of saving those few minutes.