In the fight against illegal passing of school buses, a common tactic is to increase the penalties that can be assessed for these violations.
For example, in 2012, Iowa passed Kadyn’s Law, which raised the fine for a first-time stop-arm violation from $200 to a maximum of $675.
If $675 seems steep, consider this: In Prince Edward Island, a motorist was recently fined $2,000 Canadian (about $1,400 U.S.) for passing a stopped school bus on Sept. 18. Justin Bradley Murphy, 24, was found guilty of the offense in court last week.
Setting stop-arm fine amounts that drivers will take seriously — as opposed to a monetary “slap on the wrist” — is clearly important. But if the penalties become too severe, do they become ineffective?
An analysis by The Gazette in Iowa last year found that after Kadyn’s Law and its penalty-increasing provisions went into effect, the statewide rate of stop-arm violations being pleaded down or dismissed more than doubled.
Iowa state pupil transportation director Max Christensen told me in a recent interview that the steeper penalties have not been effective. One of the stumbling blocks, according to Christensen, is a stipulation for a 30-day driver’s license suspension for a first-time stop-arm violation. Judges and prosecutors typically back away from that punishment, he said, because it would leave some drivers without a way to get to work.
(Kadyn's Law also added the possibility of a 30-day jail sentence for first-time stop-arm violators in Iowa. For a full list of penalties, go here.)
“We’re seeing fewer actual convictions now than we used to,” Christensen said. “It’s a problem, and I’m not sure what the solution is.”
Regardless of the monetary amount of stop-arm fines, the laws won't be effective if they aren't enforced — whether by police periodically staking out school bus stops, or by allowing evidence from the bus driver or from stop-arm cameras to be used in prosecuting violators.
In Prince Edward Island, police have found that enforcement action with unmarked cars around school bus stops seems to have resonated with drivers.
In fact, an unmarked police vehicle happened to be following Justin Bradley Murphy at the time he allegedly passed a stopped school bus, which led to his CA$2,000 fine.
Of course, the primary goal of school bus stop-arm efforts should be preventing illegal passing, as opposed to generating ticket revenue. To deter potential violators, they have to know not only that they could put children’s lives at risk if they pass a stopped bus, but also that they could get caught in the act.
What stop-arm safety measures have proven successful in your area? Post a comment below.