On Monday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley lent her approval to a long-awaited bill allowing stop-arm cameras on school buses, SB 718, which was added as an amendment to HB 5014. The measure to permit video cameras to record motorists who illegally pass stopped school buses takes effect immediately.
Last month State Sen. Thomas Alexander (R-Oconee County) used a disturbing photo taken after a bus-stop accident to press his colleagues to reconsider the bill he'd introduced last year that had lingered for months in the Senate Transportation Committee.
David Poag, cofounder of the Stop Arm Violation Education-Enforcement pilot program, or S.A.V.E., told STN last week this legislation is a step in the right direction for the enforcement of stop-arm violations. A chief goal of the S.A.V.E. campaign was to amend state law to allow video cameras to catch and prosecute "fly-by" motorists who disobey school bus stop laws and put children's lives in jeopardy daily.
In South Carolina, 14 students have been killed and 26 injured in illegal passing incidents during the past four decades — which is "40 too many," according to Poag.
"We firmly believe the use of video surveillance in enforcement efforts will ultimately make motorists think twice before passing a stopped school bus, therefore decreasing the amount of stop-arm violations," he said. "For those motorists who don't think twice, they'll have to think about how they're going to pay the price. Hopefully, South Carolina school districts and law enforcement can work together to enforce this bill."
Prior to the law's passage, South Carolina law enforcement were required to see the violation in person to ticket the driver.
Sometimes It Takes a Tragedy
The recent photo shared by Sen. Alexander to galvanize support from fellow lawmakers was taken moments after an errant motorist struck a 15-year-old Gaffney High School student as she exited her school bus on May 13. The image shows the force of the impact, capturing the girl's tennis shoes lying in the road next to the bus and her backpack lying on top of the large bus, where it landed after the girl was hit.
After the accident, she was flown to Spartanburg Regional Medical Center, where she remains in the ICU. The South Carolina Highway Patrol arrested a 24-year-old Gaffney woman, who has been charged with unlawfully passing a stopped school bus resulting in great bodily injury.
State troopers said Leslie Littlejohn, 24, was driving north on Wilkinsville Highway when she failed to brake on approaching a stopped school bus with its flashing lights activated and stop sign extended.
While the accident is still under investigation, Littlejohn was charged today with unlawful passing of a school bus and violation of a learner's permit. She received minor injuries in the accident, but the other passenger, a minor, was unhurt, according to police.
"What we're trying to do with the cameras is be the eyes of law enforcement when they're not present," Alexander told a local station. "Unfortunately, many times it takes an unfortunate situation to help galvanize the support that we need."