State law protects drivers passing stopped school buses

January 30th, 2015

State law protects drivers passing stopped school buses

January 30, 2015

GREENSBORO, NC -- There's a huge loophole in North Carolina law helping violators get away with passing stopped school buses. How huge?

Three thousand people a day are still blowing past stopped school buses despite the fact the legislature has increased penalties twice and allowed bus camera video in court. That's because a different state law is taking the teeth out of what the legislature recently passed.

"A state law is standing in the way to keep them from getting the... I would say that's… I would say it's stupid," said William Adkins.

In 2009, Adkins' son Nicolas was hit and killed by a driver who ignored the school bus stop arm. In Nick's honor, the state legislature passed the Nicolas Adkins School Bus Safety Act. The law increased the penalties for drivers who pass a stopped school bus. And it allowed video captured by school bus stop arm cameras to be used in court.

"I thought cameras would be in every school bus by the beginning of the next year to be honest with you. That was naïve," Williams Adkins said.

NBC Charlotte's Greensboro sister station WFMY discovered even if a driver is caught on camera passing a stopped bus, the video might not make a difference.

The cameras see almost everything. The stop arm out. The car passing and the driver's license plate.

But it often does not capture the driver's face clearly.

And state law says even with a license plate number, if you don't have enough to identify the driver, you can't expect a conviction.

"If they can't get a description of the person in the vehicle, why get a description of the vehicle and the tag number? That's stupid. It's crazy" said Adkins.

2 Wants to Know also found out school districts in other states are getting their bus cameras for free.

But we can't get them free in North Carolina because of the same law.

Eight years ago, Guilford County Schools saw the opportunity to get stop arm cameras for free and took the equipment for a test run.

GCS Transportation Director Jeff Harris said, "And I thought it was a great idea. This is what we need" But the state law got in the way.

The company that provides the free cameras makes its money from the fines. And since their cameras rely on getting the license plate and can not identify drivers, they can't guarantee they'll get enough citations to pay for the cameras. School districts have very few cameras because they're so expensive. Guilford County Schools estimates it costs $2,000 to put cameras on just one bus. The district has more than 600. So we called every state representative and state senator that represents the Triad asking them if they'll vote for a change to the law.

State Attorney General Roy Cooper wants to give school districts the power to issue tickets with just the license plate information. Representative Donny Lambeth wrote us to say he plans to propose a bill to close this loophole. We heard from a handful of other lawmakers who said they would vote to change the law. We'll be sure to stay on top of what happens at the state capitol. William Adkins serves on the Child Fatality Task Force which offers recommendations to the state legislature.

He said, "I'm definitely going to make some phone calls."