With the pandemic slowing down and the world opening up again, there are more and more vehicles on the road every day, including more school buses. For most of Minnesota, the number of school buses during the pandemic decreased because kids were in distance learning. But with more kids returning to school, and more school buses on the road again, it’s more important than ever to pay attention to the bus signals and abide by the laws to avoid legal consequences.
Minnesota law provides serious penalties for drivers who pass a school bus with its stop-arm extended. If you are found in violation of this law, you could face serious consequences, including jail time and loss of driving privileges. When a school bus has its stop-arm extended, Minnesota law requires drivers to stop their vehicle at least 20 feet away from the bus and not move until the stop-arm is retracted and the red lights are no longer flashing.
A basic Stop Arm Violation is usually charged as a misdemeanor, which is the lowest level crime in Minnesota. The maximum possible penalty for a misdemeanor is 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. If you receive a ticket for this offense, you cannot simply pay the ticket – you must appear in court. And, when you get to court, the minimum fine according to the law is $500.00.
A stop-arm violation becomes more serious if, while the stop-arm is extended, a driver passes or attempts to pass on the right-hand (passenger door) side of the bus, or if they pass or attempt to pass the bus while a school child is on the street or sidewalk area near the bus. If there were children present when you pass the bus, or if you pass on the right-hand side, you could be charged with a gross misdemeanor, which has a possible consequence of a year in jail and a $3,000 fine.
The best things you can do to avoid a violation of this type is drive carefully, and pay attention to the school buses. If the bus’s lights are flashing, stop a minimum distance of 20 feet away from the bus, and don’t move your vehicle until the bus’s stop arm is recalled and the lights stop flashing. Be patient! You won’t win anything by trying to pass the bus. On the contrary, you could risk the safety of the school children and get yourself in trouble in the process.
DO NOT Admit Wrongdoing
Most people who receive tickets for this offense are not pulled over right after passing the bus and instead come into contact with law enforcement later. Some buses are equipped with cameras that can catch violations, and other times the bus driver or another person witnessing the incident calls the police to report violations when drivers don’t obey the bus’s signals. This means that often, a police officer will either call you or show up at your house to ask you questions about the incident.
If a police officer asks you about an incident, it’s important that you NOT speak to the officer. Remember, anything you say can and will be used against you. Politely decline to answer the officer’s questions because something you say could hurt your case later in court. Sometimes the questions seem simple. For example, the officer may ask, “were you driving your car earlier today?” or “did anyone else drive your car today?” And although those questions seem simple, answering them could lead to you receiving a ticket. It’s best to NOT make any statements to the officer. DO NOT answer any questions. If you feel uncomfortable, you can always respond politely with, “my attorney told me not to answer any questions.”
If you’re facing a School Bus Stop Arm Violation charge, you can trust the experienced Minnesota lawyers at Sieben Edmunds Miller to advocate for you. Don’t go through this alone. Give us a call to get started – you can reach us at (651) 994-6744.