A growing problem across our state is putting the lives of students at risk—failure to stop for a school bus. According to the Columbus Dispatch, nearly 4,200 drivers in Ohio were ticketed for illegally passing a school bus from 2015-2017. I emphasize the word ticketed because it is often difficult for a school bus driver to capture a license plate number or identify the driver of the vehicle because their main priority is to keep students safe on and off the bus. In fact, I have heard from many drivers who say they experience the problem daily.
To combat this critical issue, I introduced Senate Bill 134, the “School Bus Safety Act” earlier this year, and just this week provided testimony to the Senate Transportation, Commerce and Workforce Committee.
The issue really came to the forefront for me after learning about two incidents involving schools in my district. The first was a car that crashed into an Eastwood school bus and the second involved a bus from Archbold schools that was hit by a speeding semi-truck.
Fortunately, no students were hurt in those accidents, but nearly a decade ago in Sylvania, a 15-year-old was not as lucky. Morgan Duris was hit and killed after a driver going 15 miles over the speed limit failed to stop for her bus. Believe it or not, that driver was never sentenced to a DAY in prison. These incidents are becoming all too common, and I believe this bill will keep our children safer and hold drivers responsible for their carelessness.
The “School Bus Safety Act,” among other provisions, doubles the fine for illegally passing a bus, clearly states that footage from bus cameras can be used as evidence in a legal proceeding, allocates money for school districts to purchase those cameras, and raises awareness of the issue by designating August as “School Bus Safety Awareness Month.”
The bill also enhances penalties for drivers who hit or kill a student as the result of failing to stop for a bus. In addition, it creates the felony offense of “vehicular harm.” I added that offense to the bill because I learned that the injuries suffered by two Cleveland-area students after being hit by a vehicle were not severe enough for the driver to be charged with vehicular assault.
Quite simply, there is no excuse for illegally passing a stopped school bus. Getting to your destination 15 seconds earlier is not more important than the lives of our children. Without a doubt, this bill will increase awareness of stopping for school buses, make drivers think twice about passing a school bus, and significantly strengthen penalties so that drivers who show little to no regard for the safety of children will be off the road longer.