Passing a Stopped School Bus: Elements and Penalties

Passing a stopped school bus might not seem like a big deal, but rest assured that Maine Prosecutors and Courts take these violations very seriously. The offense is a misdemeanor criminal charge and penalties include mandatory fines and license suspensions. Most of these violations don’t involve reckless driving, but a moment of distraction in a parking area, confusion from conflicting signals, or an even an error by the bus driver. The good news is that the law is quite specific and there are defenses.

Passing a Stopped School Bus, Elements of the Crime

Maine law on Passing a Stopped School bus is found at 29-A §2308. A school bus driver must:

  1. Activate flashing lights at least 100 feet before stopping to receive or discharge passengers.
  2. The lights must be displayed until after the bus has received or discharged passengers.
  3. The driver may only use the lights when receiving or discharging school aged persons.

A driver approaching a school bus from either direction must stop before reaching the bus if:

  1. The bus is stopped,Car passing a stopped school bus
  2. with its red lights flashing
  3. to receive or discharge passengers,
  4. The driver must wait until the bus moves or
  5. the bus driver signals to proceed.

A driver does not need to stop for a school bus:

  • On a road with lanes separated by curbing or other physical barrier, and
  • the bus is in a lane separated by the barrier from the lane in which the driver is traveling, or
  • On a limited access highway where pedestrians are not permitted to cross, and
  • the school bus is stopped in a loading zone.

Sentences if Convicted

Penalties for Passing a Stopped School Bus

  • $250-$1000 fine
  • 30 day license suspension (administrative)
  • Maximum of 6 months jail

$250 is the minimum fine and while your license will be suspended, it will not likely be through the court. Passing a stopped school bus is among the convictions that trigger a 30 day administrative license suspension, imposed by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. A second offense will lead to higher fines and a much longer suspensions. Jail is imposed in particularly egregious cases. The crime is a class E misdemeanor and you can read this article for more details about misdemeanor sentencing.

Defenses to the Crime

The bad news is that passing a stopped school bus is a crime and a conviction will stay on your record forever. The good news is that, since it’s a crime, all elements must be proved beyond all reasonable doubt. As you can see from the elements discussed above, the statute has detailed requirements for the bus driver’s obligations, the other driver’s duties and provides for circumstances where the driver does not need to stop.

I have seen cases where bus drivers do not properly signal, give conflicting signals, extend stop signs without lights, or turn on lights only after stopping or when it’s too late for the driver to slam on the breaks. An experienced criminal defense attorney will understand the law and can help raise the best defense. Pleading guilty guarantees a conviction that will follow you for life and a license suspension of at least 30 days. It’s worth at least talking to a lawyer before deciding how to proceed.

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