Traffic Law Tuesday: New law changes when drivers have to stop for school buses

There's a new law in Georgia when it comes to school buses and when drivers must stop for them. Some are calling it confusing and not everyone is happy about the new law. 

Every year, we remind drivers about the stop arm law in Georgia. This year though, there's a small change in the law that may make it more confusing for drivers and some say less safe for students.

House Bill 978 was a bill to help set up automated speed traps in school zones, but in one paragraph it also amended the law for driver's passing school buses.

Before, only a grass or concrete median meant drivers heading in the opposite direction didn't have to stop. Now the language has changed to say if there's a turn lane present, when a bus is loading or unloading, that opposite traffic no longer has to stop.  

Local school districts and leaders with the Georgia Association of Pupil Transportation are worried this change will create confusion, more wrecks, legal challenges and potentially more dangerous bus stops. Authors of the bill have said, that wasn't their intention.

"They were starting to get the drill down. Everybody kind of knew when you're supposed to stop and not stop and now that water is muddied some," says Sam Ham, Executive Director of Transportation Services for the Fulton County School System and the Georgia Association of Pupil Transportation Vice President. "Our largest concern is when you don't have to stop, if that's ambiguous, that endangers the lives of students."

Buses in Georgia are not routed for stops where students have to cross multiple lanes of a highway, with a turn lane but that doesn't mean the students don't find ways to cross those highways after the bus is gone.

Some transportation officials say, the law before was easier for many drivers to understand where a physical concrete or grass median meant you didn't have to stop.

Back in April, leaders with the Georgia Association of Pupil Transportation even sent a letter to Governor Nathan Deal, asking him not to sign this bill into law and saying it would create unsafe bus stops in our state. It was signed anyway, and went into effect on July 1st.

"There's some good things within that bill, so I assumed, he went ahead and signed the bill, so now we'll be urging our legislators to clean that language back up during the next session," adds Ham.

The fine for passing a stopped school bus was also changed in the new law. Instead of a threatening $1,000 fine for multiple offenses, the punishment is now capped at $250 instead.  

To recap: With the new law, if there's a concrete or grass median, or now a turn lane drivers traveling in the opposite direction do not have to stop for buses that are loading and unloading. It's never a bad idea to slow down though around that precious cargo.