One of the most serious traffic offenses that a driver can be charged with in NC is passing a stopped school bus. Many people are not aware that NC General Statutes allow a driver to be charged even if a law enforcement officer does not personally observe the violation.
School buses are equipped with recording equipment on both the inside and outside of the bus. The law requires a driver passing a stopped school bus with red lights flashing or stop sign deployed, to stop and not pass the vehicle until the red lights are no longer flashing.
In Wilmington, many drivers get caught due to the nature of the roads that the buses are stopping on. There are many bus stops on roads that have speeds of 55 mph, such as Carolina Beach Rd. and College Rd. It is a common mistake when drivers see the buses pulling over in to the entrance lane for neighborhoods on those roads to think the bus will be pulling into the neighborhood.
Instead, the driver puts on the red lights and discharge riders right there on the side of a highway. Some bus drivers have taken this new power as a crusade to catch as many people illegally passing their buses as possible. This crusade results in a Trooper or other law enforcement showing up at a driver’s home with a citation from many days prior. The Trooper usually cannot answer any questions about the citation other than show the driver three pictures from the bus cameras.
The pictures are provided by the bus driver to the officer. The pictures show the passing vehicle behind the bus, as it passes the stop sign, and after it pass the bus completely. Most accused drivers take this as proof of their crime and plead guilty or try to make arrangements for a reduction. What those drivers don’t realize is that the information provided to the Trooper is only part of the story.
In effect, the state has deputized bus drivers. This results in citations being issued for a very serious traffic charge, with almost no law enforcement involvement or investigation. The citation is based on the testimony of a bus driver who is dividing their attention between driving, riders, and other vehicles. Luckily, there are recording devices that are available to show what actually happens. However, if the relevant information is not requested, the judge will not see it.
Consult with an experienced attorney who has disputed these types of cases before. Just because it is a traffic charge, does not mean it will not have a serious effect on your license and insurance. If you feel the charge was not appropriate, fight for your rights! If you don’t stand up for yourself, no one will.