COLUMBIA, S.C. — A bill here that would make it easier to cite drivers for illegally passing school buses was approved with an amendment by a state Senate committee last week.
As SBF previously reported, under S946, the registered owner of a vehicle could be cited for a stop-arm violation even if he or she was not behind the wheel at the time. When the bill was first submitted in January, a first violation initially would have resulted in a $500 fine for the vehicle owner. However, if the owner could prove that someone else was driving the car at the time of the incident, they wouldn’t be held responsible for the violation.
The bill was created to address the challenge of only being able to issue citations if the person behind the wheel can be identified in recorded video footage from the stop-arm camera on the bus.
“There are issues with window tint and glare, and some buses leave at 5:30 in the morning or while it is still dark, and you may not have a high-definition camera, so it is often difficult to identify the driver,” said Jada Garris, spokesperson for the SAVE (Stop-Arm Violation Education Enforcement) Campaign.
The bill was approved by the Senate Transportation Subcommittee on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, the Senate Transportation Committee gave it a favorable report with an amendment included, and sent it to the Senate floor.
The amendment reduces the fine for a first violation, if video footage does not positively identify the driver of the vehicle, from $500 to $250. However, if law enforcement officials witness the violation, the minimum fine for a first offense is over $1,000, six points are added to the violator's driving record, and the violation is now considered a criminal penalty instead of a civil penalty.
The bill may advance to the House this week, according to Garris.
The hope is that, if approved, the law will be an effective deterrent, she said. In other states with similar laws, such as Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia, only 1% of vehicle owners who receive this citation are repeat offenders, Garris pointed out.
“In 2015, the South Carolina Highway Patrol issued 42 citations for stop-arm violations, but we have almost 50 per hour [statewide],” she added.