The past several weeks have seen a series of tragic school bus accidents across the country. Among them a crash involving a stopped school bus where five children were killed and six others injured, in addition to another incident involving a young boy who was struck by a vehicle while crossing in front of his stopped school bus in Tallahassee.

The attention garnered by these preventable tragedies has sparked a White House petition calling for Congress to enact tougher punishment for drivers who violate school bus traffic laws. It is also sending a reminder to all motorists about their legal duty to drive safely, especially in school zones and near school buses.

Florida School Bus Laws

In addition to every motorist’s “duty of care,” or the legal obligation to take steps that ensure safe driving, drivers in Florida are also required to abide by certain traffic laws relating to school buses and school zones. Under the existing laws in Florida:

  • All motor vehicles are required to come to a full stop when approaching a school bus that displays its “stop” sign and/or has its red lights flashing.
  • The school bus stop law applies to motorists traveling in either direction on two-way streets, including those that have paved medians dividing traffic.
  • The only time traffic in the opposite direction does not need to stop is where there is a raised barrier (such as a concrete divider) or at least 5 feet of unpaved space dividing opposing lanes of traffic. Motorists in opposing lanes of traffic should still reduce their speed and be vigilant of children getting on or off the bus.
  • Drivers must reduce their speed to no more than 20 mph in school zones.

Drivers who violate these laws can face significant penalties. Passing a stopped school bus with its stop sign arm extended is punishable by a minimum fine of $165 or, when passing on the side of the bus where children enter and exit, a fine of $265 for a first offense, as well as 4 points license points. A subsequent offense within 5 years carries the same fine and a 180-day to 1-year driver’s license suspension. Cited motorists will also be required to complete a state-approved driver improvement course. Penalties for driving over the 20 mph speed limit in a school zone are also severe, as fines are doubled in school and construction zones.

Following the tragic death of a young boy who was struck by a motorist while attempting to board his stopped school bus, Florida lawmakers passed the Cameron Mayhew Act in 2017. The law increases minimum penalties for drivers who illegally pass school buses and cause injury or death to another. These penalties, aside from potential criminal charges for negligent homicide, include:

  • 120 hours of community service in a hospital or trauma center
  • Participation in a victims’ impact panel or completion of a driver improvement course
  • Six points on one’s driver’s license
  • A minimum 1-year license suspension
  • $1,500 in fines

Protecting Children: Other Safety Points

These laws are critical to protecting young children, and anyone behind the wheel of a motor vehicle needs to remember that young children may not be as aware of their surroundings or traffic laws as adults. As such, it becomes important to obey other important laws and increase your vigilance when driving near schools and students.

Here are a few safety points to remember:

  • Avoid distracted driving, including not just texting, but also eating and drinking, conversing with passengers, reading maps, and engaging in any other action that takes your attention away from the road or reduces your reaction time.
  • Texting behind the wheel is illegal in Florida, and can increase the risk of causing a car accident by over 20x, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
  • Watch for children who may enter the street from behind vehicles, and for students near school parking lots and intersections.
  • Be alert to any school crossing guards and obey their signals.

Victims’ Rights: Seeking Compensation for Child Injuries

An accident involving a child can be one of the most difficult and devastating experiences. When those accidents are preventable and the result of another’s negligent or wrongful acts, families have the ability to seek justice and financial compensation for their damages by pursuing a personal injury claim or, in the case of a fatal incident, a wrongful death lawsuit.

In Florida, a child’s parent or legal guardian may file a personal injury lawsuit on behalf of a child injured by another’s negligence. By doing so, the family has the opportunity to hold the at-fault party accountable, and recover financial compensation for a child’s medical expenses, future medical needs, pain and suffering, and emotional anguish and injuries, among other damages. Parents may also recover compensation to account for any lost income associated with the need to care for their child, as well as emotional injuries they suffered, in some cases.

At Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather & Littky-Rubin, our nationally-recognized West Palm Beach personal injury lawyers are known for our tenacious representation of injured victims and families, including families whose children have suffered harm which could and should have been prevented.

We have represented numerous families of children injured in car and bus accidents, as well as other preventable incidents. To discuss a potential case anywhere in Palm Beach County or the state of Florida, contact us for a free case evaluation.