Fines could soon be doubled for people who drive around, or fail to stop for school buses with their stop arms out. A bill moving through the House has just one committee left to go.
Rep. Ardian Zika (R-Land O'Lakes) says the numbers show, drivers aren't taking school bus safety seriously.
“There were over 3,700 citations last year for passing a school bus and according to the Department of Education there were over 10,000 violations reported by school bus drivers,” Zika says.
Zika says when drivers see a school bus with its stop-arm out, the law requires them to stop. But he says many people seem to be in too big a hurry. He wants to double the fine to help ensure people are paying attention.
Fines for drivers who pass on the left side of the school bus would increase from $100 to $200 under a bill filed by Zika this legislative session.
If drivers pass on the right side—the side where kids get on and off the bus—Zika’s bill would double the fine from $200 to $400. But Rep. Joe Geller (D-Dania Beach) worries that might be going too far.
“I really am very concerned about raising the fine to $400," Geller says. "If you’re buzzing past in your Porsche and you don’t really care, I don’t care. But I am worried about some single mom who is trying to get her kids to school who is driving and maybe didn’t pay as close attention as she should have. A $400 for a first offense—that keeps food off the table for people.”
Geller says he’d like to see an amendment that lets people opt into traffic school on a first offense—something he says costs less than $150 dollars and takes about four hours. But Rep. Barbara Watson (D-Miami) says a fine for such reckless behavior shouldn't be easy to pay.
“$400 is a lot of money, Representative Geller, but a life is more valuable,” Watson says.
For Watson, the issue feels personal. Her husband died last year after being hit by a car as a pedestrian. She says people need to understand when they drive around a school bus, they're risking the lives of the children getting on or off that bus. “When we pass on the right hand side we are talking about people exiting a bus who are completely distracted and thinking that they’re safe. To deliberately pass a bus on the right-had side can be life taking for a small child," she says.