TALLAHASSEE – In 2019, the Florida Department of Education conducted a survey of bus drivers and found that on any given day, school buses in Florida were passed illegally nearly 13,000 times across the state.
Lawmakers raised penalties for violations in 2020, but new legislation aims to strengthen the law’s enforcement.
The 2020 legislation doubled penalties for illegally passing a school bus, but Leon County bus driver Willie Mae Heard said she still sees it happen at least three times a day.
“My great concern is they might hit one of our kids getting off the bus,” said Heard.
State Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Palm Beach, said the problem comes down to enforcement.
“Because law enforcement is not sitting at bus stops all day and they’re not following buses all day,” said Slosberg.
She’s sponsoring legislation that aims to capture violators on video by installing external cameras on buses.
“We need cameras on the long arms that can catch violators as it happens and so that we can issue citations,” said Slosberg.
Santa Rosa County recently implemented a similar initiative.
Videos captured by the bus cameras show drivers disregarding the the red flashing lights.
“It is paramount that we keep our children safe,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association.
The union represents school staff, including bus drivers.
Spar said the issue continues to be a common complaint.
“Whether they don’t like that they’re behind a bus, whether they’re running late or whatever it may be, it’s no excuse for someone to endanger children,” said Spar.
If the bill passes, Florida would join 23 other states that have already adopted similar laws.
“This is going to give notice to drivers that you are being recorded, and to drive properly and to use caution and to obey the law,” said Slosberg.
The cameras could pay for themselves.
Fines for passing a stopped school bus range from $200 to $400, depending on which side of the bus an offender passes.
Those fines would be paid directly to school districts that opt into the program to cover the cost of the cameras’ installation and maintenance.