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A new school year is fraught with excitement and anxieties for parents, students and staff, but it was also a bit dangerous for the driver and passengers of a Lowcountry Head Start bus in Colleton County. The school bus was forced to swerve off Highway 17A to avoid a crash when two cars passed the bus and went on the oncoming lane, forcing a third car to swerve to avoid another crash. Fortunately, the driver and all 28 passengers in the school bus were not harmed. There were no tickets issued because the cars that forced the school bus to swerve did not stop.

South Carolina’s New School Bus Law

The South Carolina Department of Public Safety has issued guidelines for bus drivers, passengers and motorists sharing public roads and highways with a school bus. It is illegal in all fifty states to pass a school bus that has stopped to load or unload students. Motorists should also be familiar with the flashing signal light system for school bus safety.

First, yellow flashing lights mean the school bus is preparing to stop to load or unload passengers. Motorists need to slow and prepare to stop their vehicles.

Second, red flashing lights and an extended stop arm or raised flag on the side of the bus indicate the school bus has stopped and passengers are entering or exiting the vehicle.

Third, if a motorist is occupying a highway that has only two lanes, with each lane going in opposite directions, then the motorist must stop for the bus, whether approaching from the front or overtaking from the rear. The motorist should remain stopped until the bus lights are no longer activated or the bus starts moving again.

And lastly, motorists that are traveling on multi-lane roadways where there are at least two lanes of travel in each direction must stop for the bus if overtaking the bus from rear. The motorist must remain stopped until the lights are no longer activated or the bus is moving again. However, if the motorist is approaching a bus from the front on a multi-lane roadway, then the motorist does not need to stop but has to proceed with caution. The two cars that overtook the Head Start school bus did not follow these rules and would have been issued a ticket had they been caught.

Recently, South Carolina passed a new law allowing law enforcement officials to write traffic tickets to motorists who illegally pass a stopped school bus after reviewing the bus’ surveillance footage. Beforehand, the officer had to personally observe the illegal passing in order to prosecute a motorist unless the illegal pass caused and injury and became a felony. The new law had stalled until a motorist killed a high school student crossing the street to board a school bus. Motorists concerned about or who have questions about school bus safety and the new law should consult a knowledgeable traffic attorney.

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