Md. lawmakers push to increase fines for passing a school bus

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Lawmakers from Montgomery County went to Annapolis on Thursday to push state delegates to pass a bill to increase the fine for passing a stopped school bus, saying it’s important to protect the safety of our children.

Maryland law currently authorizes a fine of up to $250 for being caught on camera passing a school bus.  But a proposal from Del. Benjamin Kramer (D-Montgomery County) would increase the fine to $500.

Several school districts have cameras on select school buses, including in Montgomery, Prince George’s and Frederick counties.  The cameras take photographs and videos of vehicles passing the bus while the stop arm is extended and lights flashing.

In Montgomery County, lawmakers pushed for the full $250 fine, but the District Court of Maryland rejected the request.

“The court decided that since the maximum fine was $250, they would set the actual fine at $125.  We asked them to raise it to $250.  The District Court Chief Judge declined to do so, saying that they didn’t think it would be in the best interests of the community.  We’re saying we think it is in the best interests.  We’re not concerned about court time, but we are concerned about our children’s lives,” says Montgomery County Council member Craig Rice.

The bill would take that decision out of the District Court and force them to accept a $500 fine or challenge the ticket and stand trial.

If a police officer in Maryland spots you passing a stopped school bus, then the fine would be $570 and three points on your license.

According to a survey from the Maryland State Department of Education in April 2014, there were 3,505 cases of vehicles passing a stopped school bus with flashing red lights in just one day.

Critics argue that increasing the fines on school bus camera tickets would only clog up the court.  Drivers would hire lawyers and go to trial, rather than pay up and learn a valuable lesson.

But staff for lawmakers in Annapolis don’t believe this will happen.

“District Court caseloads may increase minimally in FY 2016; general fund expenditures are not materially affected unless school bus monitoring and contested citations increase substantially in future years,” reads the fiscal policy note.

Rice is also not concerned about clogging up the court dockets with these cases.

“If you have pay to hire a lawyer and drag yourself into court to justify the fact that you passed a school bus with the stop arm extended and red lights on, you deserve that embarrassment because the video doesn’t lie,” says Rice.

Delegates in the House Committee on the Environment and Transportation general appeared favorable to the bill.  It gets referred to subcommittee, where a recommendation will likely come in the next couple of weeks.

Neither the District of Columbia nor Virginia has cameras on school buses.

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