Mistake in school bus law needs correction

An editorial from The Journal 

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — One step forward, two back.

All too often that seems to be the situation when government tries to do something to make our lives better. It is frustrating, to say the least.

But when our children’s safety is involved, it is infuriating and entirely unacceptable, requiring immediate correction.

Hundreds of times a year, stopped school buses in West Virginia are passed by motorists who ignore the flashing lights and other warnings on the big, yellow vehicles. Fortunately, the scofflaws almost always go on their way without harming anyone. That is a tribute, by the way, to the men and women who drive school buses and do an excellent job of safeguarding their young charges.

Occasionally, however, a child crossing the road after getting off or before getting on a school bus is struck by a motorist.

School districts and law enforcement agencies do what they can to prevent motorists from breaking laws related to school buses and speeding in school zones. Some buses have cameras that can be used to provide evidence against drivers charged with passing illegally. Periodically, some local law enforcement agencies send officers or deputies to ride buses for the same reason.

In 2010, a new law provided stiffer penalties for those convicted of passing stopped school buses. That was a step forward.

But the same measure rescinded a law allowing owners of vehicles passing stopped buses to be charged with misdemeanors and fined $200. That was two steps backward because it was a valuable tool in cases in which drivers of such vehicles cannot be identified.

Obviously, no one likes the idea of penalizing a person for a crime he or she did not commit. But when motor vehicles are involved, various laws hold owners responsible for how their cars or trucks are used, regardless of whether they are driving.

The owner responsibility provision should be restored at the Legislature’s next opportunity. If there ever was a situation in which indirect responsibility is appropriate, it is in keeping children who ride school buses safe.

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