Passing a school bus with flashing red lights on is illegal in New Jersey and can result in serious penalties. Even stopping too close to a school bus can land a driver a ticket. Due to the serious risk posed to children, any time a driver illegally passes a school bus police officers take it seriously.
Innocent mistakes can happen, however, and there can be ways to mitigate or eliminate the penalties of this ticket (see below).
What Are the Penalties for Improper Passing of a School Bus in NJ?
- Fines: A driver convicted of a passing a school bus with its red lights on will be fined no less than $100 for a first offense. A second offense comes with a fine of no less than $250.
- Points: Improper passing of a school bus in NJ is a 5-point offense. This can put drivers close to or over the 6-point threshold for an additional surcharge (see below) or the 12-point threshold for a suspended license.
- Surcharge: When a driver in NJ accumulates 6 or more points in three years he/she must pay a state surcharge of $150 plus $25 for each point over six. This is separate from and in addition to the fine.
- Court costs: Drivers who challenge their NJ school bus ticket in court must pay court costs of $33.
- Auto insurance increase: Due to the serious risk of harming a child when one passes a school bus (and thus the risk of an insurance claim), most insurers would likely raise rates upon a conviction for such an offense. The exact amount depends on many factors, but it’s not uncommon for rates to go up as much as 17%, according to some estimates.
- Jail/Community service: While it's uncommon, it is possible to be sentenced to 15 days of community service or jail time for improperly passing a school bus in NJ.
Rules for Approaching a School Bus in New Jersey
New Jersey drivers can avoid a ticket for improper passing of a school bus by following these rules:
- On a two-lane highway, or another road not divided by a physical barrier, stop at least 25 feet from a stopped school bus with flashing red lights. This is true regardless of which direction the vehicle is approaching the bus.
- On a highway divided by a physical barrier, cars on the same side as the bus must stop at least 25 feet when the flashing red lights are on. Vehicles approaching from the opposite side of a highway divided by a physical barrier may pass at no more than 10 mph until they have completely passed the stopped school bus.
- When passing on the same side of a highway as a bus that is picking up or dropping off students directly at a school (or day camp or any school-related activity), proceed no faster than 10 mph.
Defenses for Passing a School Bus Ticket in NJ
It’s generally a bad idea to plead guilty to a ticket for improper passing of a school bus. The points and insurance increase can haunt a driver for many years. The best approach is to hire an attorney to fight the ticket. There are two main ways to beat a NJ school bus ticket:
- Negotiate a reduction. An experienced attorney can negotiate with prosecutors to reduce an improper passing of a school bus ticket to a lower-point offense. A 2-point ticket or no-point unsafe driving ticket may be available as options, each of which can have a lesser impact on one’s insurance rates.
- Go to trial. New Jersey requires bus drivers to appear in court to act as a witness whenever a person is ticketed for improperly passing a school bus. School bus drivers in NJ are also required to keep records of when they activated their lights to let children on and off. However, many school bus drivers do not show up to court, and when they do, they often keep poor records. A skilled attorney can cross-examine a bus driver to raise reasonable doubt that the ticket is valid. However, the risk of taking a case to trial is that the driver may be convicted and receive the full amount of fines and points.
Why Hire an Attorney to Fight My Improper Passing Ticket?
Many drivers believe they can fight a ticket for passing a school bus on their own.While it is theoretically possible, individuals with no courtroom or trial experience may not be successful. The fact is, judges and prosecutors have spent years learning to dissect arguments and ask pointed questions in order to separate fact from fiction. Moreover, even an honest a truthful individual who is genuinely innocent can accidentally trip up and say something that can result in a conviction.
An experienced attorney will not have that problem. An experienced lawyer can protect his client from incriminating himself. A skilled traffic ticket attorney likely knows what to say, when to say it, and how to say what is needed to increase the odds of getting a charge dismissed or reduced. The right attorney likely has a positive relationship with both judges and prosecutors, ensuring that their arguments are taken seriously.
Common Questions About Improper Passing of a School Bus NJ
- What if I am separated from the school bus by a double-yellow line?
A vehicle approaching a school bus from the opposite direction on a roadway that is not separated by a physical barrier must come to a complete stop 25 feet away from the bus. This includes cars in the right lane of a four-lane road with a double-yellow line in the middle.
- Can I pass a school bus that is stopped at a railroad crossing?
School buses are required to come to a complete stop at any railroad crossing. However, since the bus will not have its flashing red lights on at this moment, it is safe and legal for other vehicles to pass.
- Can a bus driver report me for passing a school bus?
Yes. A bus driver is well within his/her rights to report a driver who has put children at risk by passing the bus when the red lights were flashing.
- Do school buses have cameras to catch drivers who pass them?
In some cases, buses are equipped with cameras in the stop sign arm, which will only record vehicles that are passing when the stop sign (and thus the flashing red lights) are on. Not all school buses have this, although it is becoming increasingly common.
Who Should I Contact for My Improper Passing of a School Bus Ticket?
If you or a loved one has been cited for improperly passing a school bus or any other traffic offense in New Jersey, you urgently need the help of a skilled attorney. The lawyers of Rosenblum Law are experienced defense and traffic ticket attorneys who have helped many people beat traffic tickets in New York and New Jersey. Email Rosenblum Law or Call 888-883-5529 today for a free consultation about your case.