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Posted at 5:50 PM ET, 02/18/2011

Attaboy! Va. legislators fix dropped 'at' in driving law

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Rosalind S. Helderman

The Virginia General Assembly has agreed to fix a grammatical error in a law that makes passing a stopped school bus considered reckless driving.

Washington Post staff writer Tom Jackman reported in November that a key preposition -- the word "at" -- was eliminated from the statute when it was amended in 1970.

As a result, the statute could be read as requiring drivers to stop school buses, rather than stop for school buses. After being used for decades to charge drivers that flew past school buses, a lawyer successfully persuaded a Fairfax County judge in the fall that the double reading of the statute was confusing enough that his client should be acquitted of a reckless driving charge.

But no more. With the legislative fix, the General Assembly's intention will be clear.

It will also be more long-winded.

The old statute read: "A person is guilty of reckless driving who fails to stop, when approaching from any direction, any school bus which is stopped on any highway, private road or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children."

Under that wording, it does indeed sound as though everyone who fails to stop a school bus is guilty of reckless driving. Now, the legislature has agreed to make things perfectly clear.

Here's what drivers will now be told: "A person driving a motor vehicle shall stop, such vehicle when approaching, from any direction, any school bus which is stopped on any highway, private road or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children, the elderly, or mentally or physically handicapped persons, and shall remain stopped until all the persons are clear of the highway, private road or school driveway and the bus is put in motion; any person violating the foregoing is guilty of reckless driving."

The bill now goes to the governor for his consideration. The legislature has classified the bill as emergency legislation, meaning it would go into effect immediately upon signing.

By Rosalind S. Helderman  | February 18, 2011; 5:50 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly 2011, House of Delegates, Rosalind Helderman, State Senate  
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Comments

This is terrible. The changed wording will make it illegal to pass a school bus that has completed taking on, or letting off, children and turned off their flashing lights to wait for any reason at the side of the road (such as for extended seating arguments, etc), UNTIL the bus is put into motion. I see this happen fairly often, where a bus is just sitting parked on the side of the road with NO flashing lights and NO stop sign arm extended, and now it would be illegal to pass that bus if you had been waiting behind it while students were offloading.

Posted by: louisinva | February 18, 2011 10:58 PM | Report abuse

It would not make it illegal to pass a school bus with lights not flashing because they are required by law to put flashing lights and stop sign up when discharging students in the listed capacities.

Posted by: slydell | February 19, 2011 4:22 AM | Report abuse

slydell is correct in his/her point about flashing red lights, but the fixed statute makes that irrelevant because it says that your car shall remain stopped until persons are clear of etc. etc. AND the bus is put in motion. If the bus driver turns off the red lights but remains standing, you may not pass it! In my experience though the driver will make his life easier by doing the opposite, i.e. start up and move into a driving lane before turning off the red lights

Posted by: oboe1 | February 19, 2011 6:58 AM | Report abuse

slydell is correct in his/her point about flashing red lights, but the fixed statute makes that irrelevant because it says that your car shall remain stopped until persons are clear of etc. etc. AND the bus is put in motion. If the bus driver turns off the red lights but remains standing, you may not pass it! In my experience though the driver will make his life easier by doing the opposite, i.e. start up and move into a driving lane before turning off the red lights.

Posted by: oboe1 | February 19, 2011 6:59 AM | Report abuse

There is a bus stop immediately before an intersection. The school buses normally stop, energize their lights, discharge the children, de-energize the lights but remain stopped until the children have cleared the intersection. What is the legal requirement?

If lights are required by law as a signal this should be included in the legislative requirements. And is the Fairfax County Fastran bus fleet included in this? I've seen these drivers after discharging their passenger(s) remain in position and tend to some paperwork or other needs which isn't an issue since they have pulled to the curb any could very well be parking.

Seems like it better fix would have been to restore the missing "at".

Posted by: LMarie1 | February 19, 2011 8:02 AM | Report abuse

There is a bus stop immediately before an intersection. The school buses normally stop, energize their lights, discharge the children, de-energize the lights but remain stopped until the children have cleared the intersection. What is the legal requirement?

If lights are required by law as a signal this should be included in the legislative requirements. And is the Fairfax County Fastran bus fleet included in this? I've seen these drivers after discharging their passenger(s) remain in position and tend to some paperwork or other needs which isn't an issue since they have pulled to the curb any could very well be parking.

Seems like it better fix would have been to restore the missing "at".

Posted by: LMarie1 | February 19, 2011 8:10 AM | Report abuse

Use your common sense people. Remember that there will have to be a police officer that witnesses it and decides what you are doing is putting others in danger.

If a bus has stopped and turned on its flashing lights to load or discharge passengers, stop your car and don't pass until you know it is safe to do so. To that end, the bus driver should keep its flashing lights on until it is safe for others to pass (so if children are crossing the crosswalk in front of the bus, the driver should keep the flashing lights going).

If you use your common sense and remember that the purpose of this law is to keep people safe, I think you will find that it really isn't all that difficult to comply with the law.

Posted by: natsfan76 | February 19, 2011 9:11 AM | Report abuse

the new bill is hideously drafted ... my state apparently has morons in the legislative drafting process, though that is apparent if you look at much of what comes out of Richmond, esp. under the current administration.

Posted by: fendertweed | February 19, 2011 9:20 AM | Report abuse

The General Assembly might want to remove that extraneous comma after the word "stop" in the first sentence of the rewritten statute. Otherwise, they'll be rewriting it again in a year.

Posted by: GreenMeansGo | February 19, 2011 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Natsfan76, my concern is that the whole reason this law was redrafted is because the courts did NOT use common sense. Because of an obvious grammatical error of leaving out one word, there was an alternate but absurd interpretation of the law and a Reckless Driver got off on that technicality. If the law as rewritten can be clearly interpreted to force drivers to remain stopped until the school bus starts to drive away, then that's what it means and how at least some police officers and courts will apply it. Common sense is not a defense in a court of law.

Posted by: louisinva | February 19, 2011 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Good god; I logged on for this?

Posted by: tmkelley | February 19, 2011 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Now someone will get to try their comma-splice defense!

Posted by: elaphidion | February 19, 2011 11:31 AM | Report abuse

I don't know who does the legislative drafting in that backwards state, but this new draft has at least two grammatical errors in it: 1) There is no need for the comma after "shall stop"; and 2) the "which" after "school bus" should actually be "that." Did anyone go to school in Virginia?

Posted by: dcabill | February 19, 2011 11:57 AM | Report abuse

I don't know who does the legislative drafting in that backwards state, but this new draft has at least two grammatical errors in it: 1) There is no need for the comma after "shall stop"; and 2) the "which" after "school bus" should actually be "that." Did anyone go to school in Virginia?

Posted by: dcabill | February 19, 2011 11:58 AM | Report abuse

legal BS. those that have no use for the law or are just stupid is no excuse.

Posted by: pofinpa | February 19, 2011 2:55 PM | Report abuse

I dislike the law for expanding it from children to the elderly AND the handicapped. I see school buses rented out and carrying adults, and they don't seem to mind using their flashers. I think there should be a requirement that the words "SCHOOL BUS" be covered when transporting anyone other than minor students.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | February 19, 2011 5:33 PM | Report abuse

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