COLUMBUS, Ohio - Every year, thousands of Ohioans illegally pass a school bus even though its stop sign arm is extended and its lights are flashing red.
This reckless action can be borne out of impatience, distraction, or just plain ignorance, but regardless of the reason for the illegal passing the potential consequences do not change; the lives of children hang in the balance.
Every time a driver illegally passes a school bus is yet another opportunity to invite tragedy and destroy not only their lives but the lives of the family(ies) of a child or children.
Many drivers understand this and have accepted the minor inconvenience of frequently stopping as the school bus picks kids up along its route until they have an opportunity to safely and properly pass the bus. However, there are some that are not being deterred from driving poorly by the current punishments.
So, lawmakers are looking at making some changes that may turn even their heads.
Three bills were combined into one Thursday, all revolving around school bus safety.
The first bill allows school bus mounted cameras to be used in investigations where police are seeking the identity of a driver that violates the no passing law.
Current law requires the bus driver obtain the license plate in order to assist police, but in the moment things happen quickly and with children in harms way, often they are not looking at the car but for where the kids are at.
Mounted cameras would be used in conjunction with the bus driver's recollection of the event to assist police in investigating the incident. Any footage obtained would be able corroborative evidence in case there was a citation given.
A citation for this violation can only be given if the driver of the offending vehicle is identified.
Once the offender is cited, the video or pictures can also be used in court as evidence.
Transitioning to another part of the bill, the penalties for violating this law increase as well. Fines go up and minimum amounts of time are added to suspension of driver's licenses.
Currently, the license can be suspended from 1 day to 1 year with a fine of up to $500, depending on judge discretion. The bill would increase that to $1,000 for the first offense with further fines for repeat offenders.
Repeat offenders could see their licenses suspended for a minimum of 3 months to a maximum of 2 years for a second offense, and a minimum of 6 months to a maximum of 3 years for a third offense. A third offense also carries 4 points on their license.
The bill's sponsor State Representative Richard Brown says this would give the law real teeth that people should take notice of.
The bill would also have educational material posted at the DMV that explains when drivers are permitted to pass a school bus and when they are not. This part of the bill comes from a piece of legislation introduced by State Representative Niraj Antani.
Brown says, it's a great piece of legislation and is glad he was able to combine all three bills into one.
Finally, the bill carries an appropriation of $1 million to help pay for cameras for school buses, which could help offset the cost of equipment for some of the smaller districts that do not have funds dedicated for such resources.
Brown says it would be illogical to think the state could pay for cameras to go on every single school bus in the state, and that the appropriation is there to help those who need it the most.
Meanwhile, he is hopeful the bill will pass given it has parts that originated on both sides of the aisle. But, the bill has a long way to go before it could reach Governor DeWine's desk.