How Serious Is a Ticket For Failing to Stop For a School Bus?
Whereas Failing to Stop For a School Bus When Signals Are Flashing to Indicate the Loading or Unloading of Children Is An Offence With Penalties That Include Significant Fines Plus Surcharge and Six Demerit Points, Among Other Things, Obtaining Professional Legal Help to Defend the Charge Is Prudent.
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Understanding the Charge of Failing Stop For a School Bus With Lights Flashing Including Potential Penalties
In years past, there was a public awareness campaign about the importance of stopping for a school bus when signals are flashing to indicate the loading or unloading of children. The slogan for the campaign was, "If you don't remember, you may never forget". Indeed, the potential for a catastrophic incident involving a child would be traumatizing for all involved; and accordingly, the law takes the failure to stop for a school bus as required very seriously. The fine, upon conviction for a first offence, is with a mandatory range of $400 minimum to $2,000 maximum. A driver will also accumulate six demerit points. Furthermore, as a conviction within the serious category, the impact upon insurance rates may also be very significant for up to three years.
(11) Every driver or street car operator, when meeting on a highway, other than a highway with a median strip, a stopped school bus that has its overhead red signal-lights flashing, shall stop before reaching the bus and shall not proceed until the bus moves or the overhead red signal-lights have stopped flashing.
(12) Every driver or street car operator on a highway, when approaching from the rear a stopped school bus that has its overhead red signal-lights flashing, shall stop at least twenty metres before reaching the bus and shall not proceed until the bus moves or the overhead red signal-lights have stopped flashing.
Duties of Driver
When Approaching the Front of a School Bus
As above, and as applicable at the time of this writing, any driver meeting a stopped school bus with overhead red signal lights flashing is legally required to stop before reaching the bus per section 175(11) of the Highway Traffic Act. Often confusing to many drivers, whereas school buses have an extendable stop arm, it is only the overhead red signal lights that determines the requirement to stop rather than the actuated stop arm; however, this could change at any time as there is currently a revision to the Highway Traffic Act that is awaiting proclamation and that shall bring the change into legal force. The new revision will require a driver to stop for either the overhead red signal lights or the actuated stop arm or both.
There is an exception to the requirement to stop before reaching a school bus. The exception occurs where the highway, meaning all roadways, has a median strip. Take note that a median strip may be a raised median such as concrete curbs or a grass area dividing the highway.
When Approaching From Behind a School Bus
The duty to stop, per section 175(12) applies to a driver approaching from the rear of a stopped school bus, again with the overhead red signal lights flashing. Furthermore, the amendment to the Highway Traffic Act that awaits proclamation will change the law such that the duty to stop applies for both, or either of, the overhead red signal lights or actuated stop arm are activated.
A driver shall stop and wait to proceed, when either meeting from the front, or when approaching from the rear, until either the bus moves or the overhead red signal-lights have stopped flashing. The amendment will eventually also include where either the stop arm is no longer actuated or the overhead lights are no longer flashing.
School bus drivers carry tools to document and report offences to the police including a form which must include the licence number of the alleged offending vehicle. Additionally, some school buses are equipped with video cameras that will capture offenders.
When a vehicle is caught on camera, spotted by a bus driver, or perhaps others, a Summons will be served on the registered owner of the vehicle. As a result, whereas only the vehicle is identifiable rather than the actual driver, any registered owner that is convicted will be subject to a fine only; without risk of demerit points or the possibility of jail. Furthermore, the registered owner will be without risk of a licence suspension by reason of an unpaid fine for this offence.
If the charge arises from observations made by a police officer, what the officer was able, or unable, to see becomes crucial. Furthermore, unless the school bus driver filed the complaint that led to the Summons being issued, the school bus driver is rarely called as a prosecution witness.
How successful a defence may be at trial depends on what can be established from the evidence disclosure that will support the case for the prosecution as well as what explanation may be available from the accused. As for explanation from an accused, the courts appear very intolerant to arguments concerning the precise colour of the bus.
Furthermore, arguing that the school bus driver failed to stop in an proper location fails to negate the duty to stop by other drivers whereas the case of R. v. Machovkov, 2005 ONCJ 429 stated:
 Many questions were directed to the officer in cross-examination to ascertain whether children or adults who have developmental disabilities were getting on or off the bus or whether there were passengers who fell into neither category. Questions were also put as to whether the bus driver had stopped at a proper location. It is to be presumed in the absence of evidence to the contrary that the bus driver carried out his duties appropriately. Section 175(8) of the Highway Traffic Act requires that no person actuate the overhead red signal-lights or the stop arm on a school bus on a highway under any circumstances other than to receive or discharge children or adults who have developmental disabilities. Moreover even if he failed to do so, it is the bus driver who is at fault and must bear the consequences of any breach on his part. But once those red signal-lights are flashing and that stop arm is out, the law requires that approaching motorists must stop and not pass the bus until those red signal-lights cease flashing and the stop arm is retracted.
As for what may be a successful defence strategy, among others, is to demonstrate that the driver did come to a proper stop and that evidence to the contrary from the police officer is inaccurate or illogical. As case that was dismissed on the basis of failure by the prosecution to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, and where the doubt arose from illogical evidence of the police officer, was that of Durham (Regional Municipality) v. Tedford, 2011 ONCJ 531 where it was said:
 Moreover, the officer stated that the eastbound school bus stopped on Carnwith Drive to the east of its intersection with Downey Drive, whereas the defendant testified that the school bus stopped on the west side of that intersection. In assessing where the school buses stop to pick up the children, I am satisfied that the more logical and safer bus stop location would be on the west side of the intersection. This is a reasonable inference I can draw from the fact that several school buses stop at this location and to stop on the east side of the intersection would cause a second and, perhaps, third school bus to potentially stop in the middle of an intersection and to block that intersection for vehicles travelling northbound on Downey Drive onto Carnwith Drive.
 For these reasons, I reject the prosecution’s evidence and I view the defendant’s evidence in this matter to be credible and indeed objective and compelling. I accept his testimony that his attention was drawn to the police vehicle parked in the driveway until the school bus driver honked his horn. I accept that he then slammed on his brakes and squeal to a sudden stop just as the front bumper of his vehicle approached the front bumper of the school bus, thereby allowing him to exchange eye gestures with the school bus driver.
 In conclusion, I have considered all of the evidence and have applied the principles of R. v. W.D., supra. For the reasons I have provided, I prefer the evidence of the defendant who, meeting a school bus with its overhead red signal-lights flashing, on Carnwith Drive East in Whitby on the morning of October 26, 2010, did stop his motor vehicle just before reaching the school bus and did not proceed until the school bus turned off its overhear flashing signal-lights and moved away from where it had stopped to pick up the children. Consequently, all of the elements of subsection 175(11) – fail to stop for school bus - the offence with which the defendant is charged, have not been proven. The charge against the defendant, therefore, is dismissed.
Attempting Negotiated Resolution
Lastly, because children are presumably involved prosecutors are unlikely to agree to much, if anything, in the way of a negotiated resolution that seeks a plea to a conviction for a lesser offence that would reduce the fine or demerit points.
Failing to stop for a school bus with signals flashing to indicate the loading or unloading of children is an offence bearing significant fines, demerit points, and affects upon insurance rates. Furthermore, with the potentially catastrophic consequences, leniency within plea negotiations with a Prosecutor is generally unlikely. When fighting a failing to stop for a school bus charge, a tough cross-examination of the witnesses for the prosecution, so as to poke holes in the evidence and testimony, and thereby create a reasonable doubt appears necessary; and accordingly, professional advocacy and the legal skills of [Legal Firm's Name] should be considered highly important and beneficial.Learn More About
Failing to Stop For School Bus