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Passing a Stopped School Bus in Fairfax County

Passing a stopped school bus in Fairfax County can be charged as reckless driving, a misdemeanor, or as a civil offense, an infraction.  It is important to know what you're charged with before going to court so you're not blindsided.  There are certain things you will want to do in order to prepare for your case.  It is important to know that Judges do not simply reduce or dismiss passing school bus charges because you have a good driving record (though that certainly helps).  Preparation is key.  Hiring a traffic lawyer is always a good idea.

We regularly handle passing stopped bus cases and would be happy to help.  Feel free to reach out for a free consultation at 703-273-4100 or use the contact form below.  We handle these cases in the Fairfax County General District CourtFairfax City District Court, Town of Vienna District Court, and Town of Herndon District Court.  Don't delay in seeking help because the court date arrives faster than you think.

p assing a stopped school bus can be reckless driving:  Virginia code §46.2-859

Pursuant to § 46.2-859 it is reckless driving to pass a stopped school bus.  As a variant of reckless driving, passing a stopped school bus is a Class 1 Misdemeanor which brings a punishment of up to 12 months in jail, 6 months of loss of privilege to drive, and $2500 fine.  To be clear, Judges rarely sentence a person to the maximum punishment for passing a stopped school bus.  In fact, we have rarely seen someone receive a jail sentence for passing a stopped school bus.  However, we have seen Judges convict for the Misdemeanor and issue driver's license suspensions.  Many Prosecutors and Judges view these cases as more severe than other forms of reckless driving since children are nearby in most cases.  As always, preparation is key.

Virginia Law on Passing a Stopped School bus requires that a person driving must stop when approaching, from any direction, a school bus that is stopped for the purpose of loading or unloading children, elderly individuals, or people with mental or physical disabilities.  The driver must remain stopped until all individuals are clear of the area and the bus in motion.

An exception to this rule is when there is a school bus stopped on the other roadway of a divided highway, access road, or driveway when the area is separated by a physical barrier or it is an unpaved area.  Consequently, if there are double yellow lines separating the roadway then that is not considered a physical barrier whereas a concrete median would be considered a barrier.  A barrier precludes the need to stop.


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 bus 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 be more difficult for you to know the bus is stopped for the purposes of discharging people.

The testimony of the school bus driver, the supervisor of school buses, or a law-enforcement officer that the vehicle was yellow, conspicuously marked as a school bus, and equipped with warning devices as prescribed in § 46.2-1090 is prima facie evidence that the vehicle is a school bus.  In most cases we simply see the police officer in court as the person testifying to this.


When we get passing a stopped school bus case we want to determine first if there are any affirmative defenses to the case with an eye towards acquittal or are we more or less seeking a reduction of the charge.  First, we will look at whether there was a physical median or barrier between your vehicle and the bus.  Many times we'll want to figure out the exact location of the incident so we will either use Google Maps or have our client take a picture of the area.  A physical barrier separating our client's vehicle from the school bus precludes a conviction for passing a stopped school bus.  In addition, the next question is whether the bus was clearly marked as a school bus and not some other type of bus.  This code section does not apply to all buses but to school buses only.  We will also look at the purpose for the school bus's stop because it must have been for the sole purpose of taking on or discharging people.  A bus that is simply stopped for other reasons is not considered a "stopped school bus" as they could be on the phone with a supervisor or waiting until their next pickup. 

After reviewing the case it may be evident that that you legally passed a stopped school bus.  This is the most frequent occurrence we see.  This happens a lot because we're all so busy and our minds are elsewhere so it may not register that there is a school bus loading or unloading children or handicapped persons.  This is especially true given many of us take the same roads everyday and we always see school buses so it isn't anything out of the ordinary for us.  So it certainly doesn't mean the act was intentional but it does mean there is a good chance for a conviction of the charge.  In these cases 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 reckless driving charge reduced to Improper Driving (a non-misdemeanor traffic infraction).  In other instances, we can work towards having the charge reduced to the civil offense of passing a stopped school bus (below).  In any case the aim is avoiding a misdemeanor conviction which, in many cases, is definitely possible.


In some instances, the police officer may issue a citation for 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.  These factors can include a good driving record, no children in the immediate area, or the school bus may have been on the opposite side of the road with many lanes in between creating a lot of space between your vehicle and the bus location.

A violation of this civil offense is prosecuted in the same way as the reckless driving statute in terms of proof of the charge.  The only real difference is this charge is non-criminal.  In addition, prosecution under this code section bars prosecution for the reckless driving variant of passing a stopped school bus.  You cannot be charged with violating both code sections.

Contesting the civil offense of passing a stopped school bus is similar to the reckless driving variant.  Many of our clients come to us because they wish to avoid DMV points being assessed as a result of a conviction.  Whether or not we recommend fighting this civil offense is on a case-by-case basis.  This is because someone with a good driving record with a case in which the bus was coming from the opposite direction with multiple lanes in-between can usually come away with a non-point non-moving reduced offense in court.  This is in contrast to a case where the person is going the same direction as the stopped school bus and decides to go around it.  This is a more aggravated situation and a Judge is much less inclined to reduce the charge.  A case under those facts that is charged with the civil variant will be recommended to prepay the ticket and move on with their lives.  Notwithstanding that, any reckless driving passing a stopped school bus charge should always be contested.


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 every day and know the best approach and are masters at damage control.

The truth about your case

We will not “sugar coat.” We will tell you exactly what you are facing and will give you the best and worst case scenarios. We are not here to scare you or to pull the wool over your eyes. We find many people calling us for a simple case where they have spoken to other lawyers and are now afraid. However, after speaking with those people and getting the facts, many times there is nothing to fear. We will tell you how things look and we will tell you the truth because we want happy clients. That’s you!

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