Bill Endangering Maryland’s Students Passes House, Counties Sound the Alarm

A bill that would strip law enforcement of one of their more effective tools to combat school bus stop violations, and in doing so would imperil students that rely on school buses for transportation, has passed the House and is now before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee this Wednesday, March 29th. Counties resolutely oppose HB 849 – School Bus Stops – Violations – Enforcement and Safety Measures, and previously registered their concerns with the House Judiciary Committee during the initial February 23 hearing.

This bill requires law enforcement agencies to issue a warning, rather than a citation, for certain school bus stop violations on State highways. Currently, speeding past stopped school buses carries a $250 penalty rising to $500 if an officer is present during the motor vehicle violation. This penalty has proven to be a powerful mechanism to ensure that drivers act with more care when in proximity to the qualifying school bus stops as evidenced by low recidivism rates. A warning for first-time offenders could conversely leave open a window for the offense to happen again and is counter to why the violation carries such a substantial penalty. MACo urges legislators to treat such a potentially consequential change with more caution, and believes that the General Assembly would do well to educate citizens on the importance of adhering to these public safety measures.

From the MACo Testimony:

School bus monitoring systems have the distinct ability to capture violations by motor vehicles when they happen at dangerously close range to students, especially on state highways where the speed limits are higher than neighborhood streets. The great benefit of these programs is their ability to change behavior quickly and ensure that drivers exercise extreme caution when encountering a school bus. The civil fine that comes with these violations is a powerful mechanism to make sure residents abide by these laws. A warning, without a civil fine, does not elicit the same response as when an actual penalty accompanies the violation. A first-time penalty is proven to drastically reduce recidivism rates immediately, advancing the true policy goal: safer roadways for students. Waiting for a second violation before applying a penalty leaves the possibility open for hundreds of thousands of drivers to make the mistake again, which simply serves to multiply the danger that students experience in these environments.

For more on MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2023 legislative session, visit MACo’s Legislative Tracking Database.