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Mississippi Senators Angry Over School Bus Passing Bill

Nathan Key was a 5-year-old kindergartner on his way to his school bus. He never made it. He was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver who ignored the flashing red lights of Nathan's school bus and drove around it. For some reason, there are increasing reports of drivers ignoring school bus signals and driving around stopped buses. The results can be tragic.

Law enforcement authorities are starting to step up enforcement. In Virginia, for example, police are increasing patrols to catch offenders. The penalties can range up to $2,500 and a year in prison. Officers believe that most offenders do not even realize they are breaking the law.

Mississippi is in the process of toughening its laws. Yet a dispute has arisen between the state Senate and the House over different versions of what has been named Nathan's Law. The House version raises fines from $500 to $750 for a first violation and up $1,500 for a second offense, along with loss of driving privileges for 90 days. However, Nathan's parents and several state senators claim that the House has actually weakened the existing law by removing a $200 minimum fine. They contend that the House bill can actually allow judges to let offenders go free with no punishment. Proponents of the House bill accuse their Senate counterparts as engaging in election-year politics.

In the meantime, schoolchildren are endangered. Some drivers think that they do not have to stop if they are driving on streets with multiple lanes. In Virginia, vehicles on multiple-lane streets still must stop for school buses unless there is a median or structure separating both directions of travel. Often drivers are simply surprised by the presence of a school bus and do not have time to stop.

Increasing penalties for violation of the law may help eventually. In the interim, some common sense can safeguard our children. If you are driving during the hours that school buses are operating, slow down whether or not you see school buses. If you see flashing red school bus lights, stop. Even if you think you are clear to go because of an intervening median, take the time to look for schoolchildren. An extra few seconds of vigilance can save a very young life.