School bus drivers across the state are counting the number of motorists that illegally pass their stopped buses today.
The one-day count of drivers breaking the law surrounding stopped buses is an annual event designed to gauge motorists’ compliance with the law, which is designed to protect children getting on or off a school bus.
Last year, more than 3,300 drivers illegally passed stopped school buses during the one-day count.
Assuming the one-day count captures an average day, nearly 600,000 vehicles illegally pass stopped buses each school year.
The General Assembly last year strengthened penalties for drivers who don’t stop after some children were hit getting on or off their buses.
Several Forsyth County children were among the victims, including Kernersville Middle School student Hasani Wesley, who was hit and killed in December 2012 while crossing the street to get on his bus.
Spurred by Hasani’s death, a new law pushed by two state representatives from Forsyth County — Donny Lambeth, a Republican, and Ed Hanes, a Democrat — imposes stiffer penalties.
Under the Hasani N. Wesley Students School Bus Safety Act, illegally passing a school bus can lead to a misdemeanor charge and a minimum fine of $500. Drivers convicted twice within three years of illegally passing a school bus could have their license revoked for a year.
Drivers convicted three times can lose their license permanently.
Drivers who hit a student can be charged with a Class I felony, pay a minimum fine of $1,250 and lose their license for two years.
Drivers who strike and kill a student can be charged with a Class H felony, pay a minimum fine of $2,500 and lose their license for three years.
Those convicted twice of a felony related to stop-arm violations could lose their license permanently.
Not sure when you’re supposed to stop for a school bus?
The only time a driver does not need to stop for a stopped school bus is when driving opposite a school bus on a divided highway with four or more lanes of traffic and a median separating the two directions of traffic, and on a road of four or more lanes of traffic with a center turning lane.
Drivers traveling the same direction behind a school bus must always stop.
The Winston-Salem Journal will report the results of today’s one-day count when they are released.