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In NC, it is indeed a Class 1 Misdemeanor to pass a stopped school bus. Moreover this charge carries five (5) license points and four (4) insurance points. As if that’s not bad enough, the court will not allow a PJC. Since there isn’t much recourse and you practically have nothing to lose, it may be best to take this type of case to trial and make the State prove each and every element of the charge, which may not be an easy walk in the park. For a conviction, the State must be able to identify and subpoena witnesses to testify, if the witnesses are available. The State must also prove that it was an actual “school bus,” including identifying the bus’ color, identifying marks, working and visible lights, visible stopping arm, etc.   Whether the bus was a private or parochial school bus matters as it relates to determining if the vehicle meets the statutory definition of a school bus.

Pursuant to NCGS 20-4.01(d4), a school bus is: “A vehicle whose primary purpose is to transport school students over an established route to and from school for the regularly scheduled school day, that is equipped with alternately flashing red lights on the front and rear and a mechanical stop signal, that is painted primarily yellow below the roofline, and that bears the plainly visible words “School Bus” on the front and rear. The term includes a public, private, or parochial vehicle that meets this description.”

Another important consideration of this charge is the type of roadway upon which the bus was traveling. It is not a violation to pass a school bus traveling in the opposite direction when there is a physical barrier between the car and the bus, or when there is a turning lane and the roadway consists of four additional lanes.

NCGS 20-217: “When a school bus is displaying its mechanical stop signal or flashing red lights and the bus is stopped for the purpose of receiving or discharging passengers, the driver of any other vehicle that approaches the school bus from any direction on the same street, highway, or public vehicular area shall bring that other vehicle to a full stop and shall remain stopped. The driver of the other vehicle shall not proceed to move, pass, or attempt to pass the school bus until after the mechanical stop signal has been withdrawn, the flashing red lights have been turned off, and the bus has started to move.”

This charge is elevated to a Class I felony when the car driver hits a pedestrian while passing the stopped school bus, and if the pedestrian dies, it then elevates to a Class H felony. If a DWI is involved, passing a stopped school bus becomes an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.

Bottom line: don’t do it.  Whatever it is that you are rushed for, it can wait.  Think long and hard before even considering passing a stopped school bus.  And then just don’t do it.

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