JACKSON, Miss. — Motorists who pass stopped school buses would face harsher penalties under a bill that was introduced in the Mississippi State Legislature.
Current Mississippi law states that if a driver passes a stopped school bus while children are present, he or she could face $200 to $500 fines or up to one year in prison.
“Nathan’s Law,” named after 5-year-old Nathan Key, who died in December while disembarking a school bus near his home, takes the current law further. First-time convicted offenders would have to pay fines of $500 to $5,000, and their driver’s license would be suspended for 30 days. For any subsequent offense, the bill would increase mandatory monetary sanctions to $800 or imprisonment for up to one year, or both, and license suspension for 90 days.
In addition, a violation resulting in the death or injury of a child would be a newly defined felony, and the offender could be sentenced up to five years in prison and fined up to $5,000.
“Nathan’s life was a dream of possibilities,” said Sen. Chris McDaniel, who introduced the bill. “His death represents the loss of some small part of our collective future, as well as the death of one of our most vulnerable and dependent. It is my hope that ‘Nathan’s Law’ makes a significant impact across the state by fostering a safer environment for Mississippi's children. Something positive must come from this terrible tragedy.”
The legislation also contains provisions for:
• The creation of a 30-foot buffer zone when a school bus is stopped with its stop sign extended and its lights flashing.
• The creation of a graduated penalty framework, providing enhanced penalties for subsequent violations.
• Prohibiting the use of a wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle within a school crossing zone unless the vehicle is stopped or the wireless communication device is used with hands-free accessories.
• Prohibiting school bus drivers from using wireless communication devices while driving.
• Requesting that the state Department of Education develop and issue curriculum guidelines to school districts relating to the implementation of a school bus safety curriculum in grades kindergarten through 3.
• Requiring that every written examination given to anyone applying for an operator's license or temporary driving permit ensure adequate knowledge on the part of the applicant in regard to school bus safety requirements.
• Encouraging the state of Mississippi to conduct a statewide marketing campaign to educate citizens on the new law and the importance of school bus safety.
• Authorizing school districts to mount cameras on school bus stop arms for the purpose of providing admissible evidence in a court of law concerning drivers who pass a stopped school bus.
• The creation of a school bus safety task force to study, research and develop new recommendations relating to school bus safety, including a detailed investigation into new school bus safety designs and technology related to safety and law enforcement.