Passing a Stopped School Bus as Reckless Driving in Fairfax County
Many times you are deep in thought and, all of a sudden, a police cruiser is behind you with its lights and siren activated. Unbeknownst to you, there was a school bus that was stopped and you unknowingly passed it. People accidentally pass stopped school buses frequently and, unfortunately, it is reckless driving in Virginia. Pursuant to § 46.2-859 it is reckless driving to pass a stopped school bus that is going the same direction as you are or is driving the opposite direction where there is no physical barrier (the most often occurrence). In this instance, you may not immediately see children or handicapped persons getting off or onto the bus. Due to cell phones, navigation systems, and other distracting things, we are starting to see these charges occur more often. Passing a Stopped School Bus in Fairfax County is a type of reckless driving that is viewed as more severe than other types of reckless driving charges. As a result, we take these cases very seriously and ensure that we are prepared for court.
When Must you Stop for a School Bus?
The law requires you to stop for a school bus when it is stopped for the purpose of discharging children, the elderly, or mentally or physically handicapped persons. Specifically, you must stop when you approach a school bus either on your side of the road or even if it is across the road driving in the opposite direction (i.e. oncoming). However, you need not stop if if you are separated from the bus by a median or barrier. According to the Fairfax County Government Website, there were 147 citations issued for passing a stopped school bus in 2015. Based on what we've seen, that number appears to be climbing as population steadily increases in Fairfax County.
What is a School Bus for Purposes of a Reckless Driving Charge?
According to the law, a school bus must have warning lights, be painted yellow, and have the words "school bus" painted on the front and rear of the vehicle. Of course, nothing is easy because, pursuant to § 46.2-1090, the failure of a warning device to function on a school does not relieve a person's duty to stop. As a result, even if the lights are not flashing, the law puts a great burden on you to know when it is time to stop. It should be noted that, in our experience, if the warning lights were not working, Judges in Fairfax County will give some leeway to the driver given that it would make it more difficult for you to know the bus is stopped for the purposes of discharging people.
Defenses to Passing a Stopped Bus in Fairfax County
First, we will look at whether there was a median or barrier between your vehicle and the bus. In addition, the next question is whether the vehicle was clearly marked as a school bus and not some other type of bus. We will also look at the purpose for the school bus's stop (i.e. whether it was for the purpose of taking on or discharging people). A bus that is simply stopped for other reasons is not considered a "stopped school bus."
Next, if the evidence is clear that you passed a stopped school bus, we will look at working towards having the Passing a Stopped School Bus Reckless Driving charge reduced. For example, many times, we can reach an agreement with the prosecutor to have the charge reduced to Improper Driving (a non-misdemeanor traffic infraction). In other instances, we can work towards having the charge reduced to another type of traffic offense such as Failure to Obey a Highway Sign. In some cases, a non-moving violation may be appropriate depending on the circumstances surrounding the charge.
Passing a Stopped School Bus as Non-Reckless in Fairfax County
In some instances, the charge can be amended to Passing a Stopped School bus under § 46.2-844 which is a civil penalty of $250. This is a 4 point offense but is not a misdemeanor and is considered non-reckless. Some police officers will simply charge you with this code section if the case is not aggravated (such as the children are already on the bus but it hasn't yet removed its warnings ). In this case, we can still represent people and work towards a reduction or dismissal depending on the facts and person's driving history.
Give us a Call for a Free Consultation
We recommend you get a lawyer if you are charged with Passing a Stopped School Bus as Reckless Driving in Fairfax County. Simply going to court by yourself puts you up against a police officer and that is simply an unfair situation to be in. The Court, police officers, and prosecutors respect us and know we are there to help you get the best outcome for your case. We are in court everyday and know the best approach and are masters at damage control.