New Maryland law permanently increases passing stopped school bus fine to $500

A new law has permanently increased the fine for passing a stopped school bus to $500 in Maryland.

The legislation that went into effect this week permanently keeps the fine at $500 if an officer pulls over a driver for failing to stop for a school bus when its red lights are flashing and children are being loaded or unloaded.

It also establishes the fine for drivers who are ticketed by the school bus stop-arm cameras to $250.

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Todd Watkins, the transportation director for Montgomery County Public Schools who oversees the school bus camera program, said the county's program has issued nearly 100,000 citations in less than three years.

"On our one day survey, we report nearly 800 to 1,200 passes in a single day," Watkins explained. "We know that every time somebody passes a stopped school bus it's a potentially life-changing tragedy for that student and their family."

The tickets have resulted in millions of dollars in fines for drivers and the bill's sponsor, Maryland State Senator Nancy King, said avoiding the fine is simple.

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"All they have to do is stop," King said. "Stop and there's no fine. We have to stop it some way so for me it's not a money grab. It's safety for our kids."

Montgomery County said it's anticipating nearly $6 million in revenue next year in fines and the state expects to see an expansion of the programs across Maryland.

Montgomery County Public Schools said the cameras and fines appear to be sending a message to motorists as less than 5 percent of drivers have been a repeat offender.

If you're unsure if you're supposed to stop for a school bus, remember the only exception is if you're on the other side of the road and there is any sort of physical divider between your vehicle and the bus, such as a concrete median.