Chances are you have had the experience of running a little late in the morning and ending up idling behind a school bus as it makes frequent stops to pick up children. You’re feeling stressed because you have a meeting to get to, or maybe you were hoping to have time to stop to grab a cup of coffee and now you won’t, or you’re afraid that if you don’t clock in on time you may be fired. The children are all climbing on from the sidewalk to the right. What harm would it do if you passed on the left and went on your way?
In Virginia, any time you pass a stopped school bus that is letting children, people with disabilities, or senior citizens on or off — no matter how careful you think you’re being — you can be charged with reckless driving. It makes no difference whether you’re going the same direction as the bus or the opposite direction. If you pass the bus, you may find yourself facing a criminal reckless driving charge under Virginia Code § 46.2-859.
Reckless Driving for Passing School Bus Penalties
Reckless driving usually is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia. If convicted, you could spend up to a year in jail. You also may have to pay a fine of up to $2,500. Additionally, a reckless driving conviction will result in six demerit points applied to your driver’s license that can remain on your record for 11 years.
Because reckless driving is a criminal offense in Virginia, a conviction means a criminal record. The conviction may show up on background checks when you apply for a job, an apartment rental, or a security clearance. The conviction and resulting demerit points on your driver’s license also may cause your insurance premiums to go up.
A judge is likely to take a charge of reckless driving for passing a school bus seriously because of the factor that children or vulnerable adults may have been endangered. Because of this, it’s a good idea to retain a traffic defense lawyer with experience handling reckless driving cases to represent you in court.
A good lawyer with experience defending these types of cases also will know that the statute is actually pretty narrowly tailored. The bus can’t be any kind of bus — it has to be a yellow, have emergency lights for when it stops, and it has to be labeled on the front and rear with the words “School Bus” in black letters at least 8 inches tall. So, for example, if the bus you passed was an old bus repurposed by a church to pick up kids for Sunday school and had been repainted white, then the reckless driving statute doesn’t apply.
The bus also has to have been stopped for the purpose of letting on or off children, people with physical or mental disabilities, or senior citizens. If it was stopped for some other reason, the reckless driving statute doesn’t apply.
An additional requirement is that the driver has to have been using the emergency lights when stopped. If the warning devices the bus is required to have equipped were not in use at the time you passed the bus, you may have a defense to the charge.
You also may have a defense to the reckless driving charge if you didn’t stop because there was a median between you and the bus. If there was a physical barrier between you and the bus, the statute doesn’t require you to have stopped if you’re approaching from the opposite direction.
A final circumstance in which the statute gives you an out is if the bus was letting children, people with disabilities, or senior citizens enter or exit the bus from or to property adjacent to a school, and a police officer or school crossing guard directed you to go around the bus, then you may have a defense to the charge.
A qualified Northern Virginia reckless driving defense attorney can go through the facts of your case and discuss with you whether any of these circumstances applies to you.