ATLANTA — Legislation intended to keep kids safe had the opposite effect, after a flaw was discovered in the law that allowed drivers to bypass the school bus stop arm while kids got on and off.
Governor Brian Kemp signed the fix of the Georgia bus legislation into law on Friday.
Questions about the legislation surfaced last year, after an attempt by Georgia legislators to clarify a law, meant to protect schoolchildren, that unintentionally allowed drivers on some roads to pass stopped school buses that were loading and unloading kids.
Drivers and officers have been wrestling with the specifics of the new Georgia bus law for months – specifically pertaining to when drivers are required to stop for a school bus stop arm.
Now, the very people who oversaw writing the original law have issued changes that are meant to simplify that answer.
State Representative Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville) said he sponsored the bill when it only dealt with cameras in school zones. He said clarity over the school bus stop arm law was added when the bill went to the State Senate.
"The language was requested because there had been an unequal application of the existing law across the state," Coomer said. "In some places, the law was being read in such a way that people on divided highways were being cited for not stopping if the school bus was on the opposite side of the divided highway."
He said this was not the intent of the law.
"We know across the state that school buses are organized in such a way that children are picked up and dropped off on the same side of the divided highway as the bus is traveling," Coomer said. "So, you won't have a situation where the child is being let off the school bus and then directed to travel across multiple lanes of traffic on a divided highway to get home."
The fix for the school bus safety law comes after an 11Alive investigation uncovered more than 100 instances where metro-Atlanta school bus drivers were caught on camera breaking the law, even with kids on board.
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The school bus drivers that were found violating the law spanned multiple counties, from May 2014 to January 2019.
Videos showed school bus drivers blowing past other stopped buses while they were loading and unloading kids.
Here's the breakdown of stop arm violations across metro Atlanta, according to records 11Alive obtained exclusively under the Georgia Open Records Act:
- Gwinnett County Public Schools -- 41 violations
- Atlanta Public Schools -- 33 violations
- Cobb County School District -- 14 violations
- Fulton County School System -- 7 violations
- Marietta City Schools -- 6 violations
- Clarke County School District -- 3 violations
- Dekalb County School District -- 1 violation
- Forsyth County Schools -- 1 violation
- Hall County Schools -- 1 violation
- Douglas County School District -- 1 violation
- Fayette County Public Schools -- 1 violation
- Clayton County Public Schools -- No responsive documents
- Newton County School District -- No responsive documents
- Cherokee County School District -- No responsive documents
- Coweta County School System -- No responsive documents
- Rockdale County School District -- No responsive documents
A White House petition has also called for the president and lawmakers in Washington to sign legislation to increase penalties for any driver who passes a stopped school bus loading and loading children.
The petition, which was started on Oct. 31 2018, has garnered nearly 17,000 signatures.
"Children are being injured or killed due to people running the alternating reds on school buses. Individual state laws are largely ineffective and typically have no significant penalty. We call upon our President and Congress to act by signing legislation that will keep our children safe by instituting severe penalties on [people] who choose to violate the red lights on a bus such as 30 days in jail, 90 day [driver's license] suspension, 12 points on license and a mandatory minimum fine of $5000.00 for the first offense. This is the least we the American voters will accept," the petition reads.
The Reveal, a show dedicated to investigations that make an impact, airs Sundays at 6 p.m. on 11Alive.