You may have read recently about a little problem with the school bus stopping laws that the Georgia General Assembly is now trying to fix. Last year the Georgia Legislature amended the school bus stopping laws with a dozen words that are, apparently, having bad, unintended consequences, one of which is car drivers no longer believing they have to stop every time for every school bus. Those words were: ““including, but not limited to, a highway divided by a turn lane.”” School transportation officials from at least 102 counties caught the problem before it was passed, and even wrote a letter to then Governor Nathan Deal in April of 2018 before it passed on July 1, 2018, to try to put a quash on it. But to no avail. It passed. And with it came new concerns about children’s safety as they exit school buses.
Before this amendment, Georgia law required traffic in both directions to stop for a stopped school bus with it’s “STOP” sign out on any laned highway unless the directions were divided by a raised median. Here is the law on overtaking a stopped school bus:
(a) Except as provided in subsection (b) of this Code section, the driver of a vehicle meeting or overtaking from either direction any school bus stopped on the highway shall stop before reaching such school bus when there are in operation on the school bus the visual signals as specified in Code Sections 40-8-111 and 40-8-115, and such driver shall not proceed until the school bus resumes motion or the visual signals are no longer actuated.(b) The driver of a vehicle upon a highway with separate roadways or a divided highway, including, but not limited to, a highway divided by a turn lane, need not stop upon meeting or passing a school bus which is on a different roadway or on another half of a divided highway, or upon a controlled access highway when the school bus is stopped in a loading zone which is a part of or adjacent to such highway and where pedestrians are not permitted to cross the roadway.
O.C.G.A. § 40-6-163
The bolded, italicized language above is what was added. Thus, before last year’s passage of the amendment, traffic in both ways had to stop on every highway with multiple lanes, even separated by a turn lane. The only time traffic going in the opposite direction of the school bus did not have to stop was when the directions of travel were divided by a raised median. There is even a Georgia Attorney General opinion from 29 years ago on the subject that confirms just that. That Opinion states: “On a highway, where the traffic lanes are separated only by a flush median or a left-turn lane, vehicles from either direction must stop for a stopped school bus displaying its visual stop signals.” Ga.Op.Atty.Gen. No. 89-20, April 7, 1989. I know this because (confession time) I once received a ticket for not stopping for a school bus on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta when I was in the far right Eastbound lane and the school bus was in the far right Westbound lane and there were three lanes full of traffic between us. As in the photograph above, I literally could not see the bus four lanes over from me and hidden by bumper-to-bumper traffic in those four lanes separating us. Also, the school bus was stopped in the middle of Ponce, not at an intersection, which forces the question: what bus driver would let a child out in the middle of Ponce de Leon, a 45 m.p.h. multi-lane highway during rush hour? Who was really at fault here?
In August of last year, Attorney General Chris Carr issued a new opinion in response to a request for clarification by the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council. This most recent AG’s opinion states:
Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia
You have asked whether, based on the 2018 revision to O.C.G.A. § 40–6–163(b), a car travelling south on a three or five lane road where the north and south lanes are divided by only a center turn lane and not a grass strip or other physical dividing median has an obligation under Georgia law to stop for a school bus that is stopped with its visual signals engaged.1 For the reasons that follow, I conclude that this statute, as amended by the General Assembly during the 2018 session, does not require a vehicle travelling on a three or five lane road divided by a center turn lane to stop for a school bus that is stopped on the opposite side of the road with its visual signals engaged. See O.C.G.A. § 40–6–163(b) (2018).
2018 Ga. Op. Atty. Gen. 02 (2018). Thus, those 12 little words made a huge change. And, apparently, different jurisdictions are treating the law differently now, so that in some counties you might receive a ticket for passing a bus in the opposite direction whose lanes are separated by a lined turn lane, and in other counties you might not. The diagram belows correctly shows what Georgia law was before the amendment last year and shows what the Georgia Legislature wants to return the law to.
So for now, you would have a good, solid case to argue you shouldn’t be ticketed in the situation where I received a ticket several years ago. There was a clearly painted turn lane separating the four lanes of traffic. But I have confidence that our General Assembly will work to restore the law to the way if was before July 1, 2018. Be on the lookout for that new change and for school buses with their STOP signs out, even if they are four lanes away from you hidden from view by bumper-to-bumper traffic. Stay safe out there!
Robin Frazer Clark is a trial lawyer who pursues justice for those who have personal injury claims as a result of being injured in motor vehicle wrecks, trucking wrecks, defective products, defective maintenance of roads, premises safety, medical malpractice and other incidents caused by the negligence of others. Ms. Clark is the 50th President of the State Bar of Georgia, a Past President of Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, a Past President of the Lawyers Club of Atlanta and has practiced law in Georgia for 30 years. She is a member of the International Society of Barristers and of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Mrs. Clark is listed as one of the Top 50 Women Trial Lawyers in Georgia and is a Georgia Super Lawyer.
Robin Frazer Clark ~ Dedicated to the Constitution’s Promise of Justice for All.