Because of the state’s inherent interest in keeping our children safe, many laws regarding actions that can be harmful to children are taken seriously by the Minnesota Legislature. Driving offenses committed in the vicinity of a stopped/stopping school bus are among those instances.
Minnesota statutes recognize two activities that are considered a danger to children regarding stopped or stopping school buses that carry costly penalties:
- Failure to stop and remain stopped when a school bus is stopped with the stop arm extended and red lights flashing.
- Passing a school bus on the right side (where the passenger door is located) when the prewarning amber signals are flashing, indicating the bus is about to stop.
What the Law Requires
If you are driving on either side of a street, highway or other marked school bus unloading area (such as a parking lot at a school), you must stop 20 feet or more from the bus when the stop arm is extended and the red lights are flashing. You must remain stopped until the stop arm is retracted and the red flashing lights are turned off. It’s important to understand both conditions must be met before you can move your vehicle.
One exception to this rule is if you are driving on a separated roadway (one divided by a safety isle or safety zone) and the bus is stopped in the opposite roadway. If you are on the same side as the bus, you still are required to stop.
Two Levels of Penalties
The Legislature has designed two levels of offense for not stopping or staying stopped in the presence of a stopped school bus.
First is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of at least $300 and up to $1,000. This punishment applies if you violate the law and there are no extenuating circumstances.
However, the Legislature has designated two extenuating circumstance that could lead you to be charged with a gross misdemeanor, which includes a punishment of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $3,000. The extenuating circumstance, which apply if either one or both are violated, are:
- Passing or attempting to pass the bus on the right (passenger door) side.
- Passing or attempting to pass the bus when a child is outside the bus and on the street or highway or the adjacent sidewalk.
Losing Your License
A gross misdemeanor conviction and a second conviction for a misdemeanor violation of the school bus law will lead to your driver’s license being revoked for a designated period of time.
The revocation for a second-time misdemeanor conviction is 30 days and goes up with each subsequent conviction to 90 days, 180 days and 1 year. A first conviction for a gross misdemeanor means an automatic 90-day suspension of your driver’s license, rising to 180 days and 1 year for subsequent convictions.
Each time your license is revoked, you also must pay a fee to have it reinstated after the punishment period.
A couple of other side notes culled from the statutes:
- Failure to stop for a school bus is cause for immediate arrest, so you will be taken to jail.
- Lawmakers recognize the importance of the work of school bus drivers, so they have ordered courts to schedule all case in this regard between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to accommodate the bus drivers’ schedule.
You Need a Good Defense
With children’s lives at stake, prosecutors will be very aggressive with school bus cases. Avoiding a conviction for gross misdemeanor and keeping that first misdemeanor from appearing on your permanent record are important. Contact us to learn how an experienced defense attorney can obtain the best outcome for your situation.
Disclaimer: The content of this article does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Please contact Jennifer Speas to discuss the specifics of your case.