A South Carolina Senate subcommittee approved a bill Tuesday to make it easier to ticket drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses. Some school buses have cameras that record video of drivers who do that, but current law says they can be given a ticket only if the driver is clearly identifiable in the video or photo and the ticket must be delivered in person. The bill would allow the state to mail a ticket to the registered owner of a vehicle that illegally passes a stopped bus.
“I deal with a lot of school bus video stop-arm violations, and less than 10 percent of the time are we able to capture the face of an individual,” David Poag, with the SC Association for Pupil Transportation, told a Senate Transportation subcommittee.
Bill Kurts, also with the association, told senators the cameras on buses have limitations. “It’s very difficult to get the driver’s face, due to the sun glare, window tinting, and so on and so forth. And of course in the mornings you’re not going to get anything before the sun comes up or, you know, obviously in the fall and winter when the sun goes down and you’ve got late routes out there. But they do get the tag numbers very easily.”
While the subcommittee passed the bill, which could be voted on by the full Senate Transportation Committee Wednesday, it’s very unlikely the bill will pass this year. It hasn’t passed the House or the Senate, so it missed the May 1 crossover deadline. The only way to bring the bill up now would be for it to get a two-thirds vote in the full Senate and then the full House. But supporters are hoping for a miracle and that will happen, or at least the bill will have already gone through hearings and amendments so it’ll be further along the process when it’s introduced again next year.
Sharon Kempf was in the audience for the hearing Tuesday at the Statehouse. She lives in Lexington, SC now, but in 2012 lived in Coats, North Carolina. On October 25th, 2012, her 12-year-old son Adam was on their front porch with her as the school bus stopped to pick him up. “As he stepped off the porch to cross over, a van didn’t stop and threw him 125 feet and he died of a multi-system trauma to his whole body,” she says.
She’s hopeful this bill will become law and make a difference. “I think everyone should be made aware of what could happen if they don’t stop,” she says.
The numbers are startling. Kurts says the state estimates that about 2,000 vehicles per day illegally pass school buses. Col. Mike Oliver, Commander of the South Carolina Highway Patrol, says because of the way the current law is written, “School bus stop-arm enforcement, I’m going to equate it to litter enforcement. It’s very difficult to catch somebody littering. It’s very difficult to catch somebody passing a school bus.”
He says in the last four years, the Patrol has made only 126 cases of stop-arm violations, almost all of those made by troopers who witnessed the violation. In 2015 and 2016, the Patrol has written only two tickets for stop-arm violations based on video from school buses.