New Hampshire Law on Passing a School Bus: Penalties Cranked Up in 2016. Some major changes were made to the New Hampshire law on passing a school bus that severely increased the punishment for convictions, titled "Buses" (RSA 265:54), which went into into effect on January 1, 2016 in New Hampshire. Here is the law:
I. The driver of a vehicle upon a way upon meeting or overtaking from either direction any school bus, plainly marked with school bus signs or such other distinguishing identification as the director may require, which has stopped on the highway for the purpose of receiving or discharging school children shall stop his or her vehicle before reaching such school bus at least 25 feet away from such school bus. The driver shall not proceed until such school bus resumes motion, or until flashing red lights cease to operate.
I-a. Testimony under oath from the school bus driver or other witness that a vehicle failed to stop and remain stopped as required by paragraph I shall be sufficient evidence to prove that the owner of the vehicle was driving and has violated the provisions of paragraph I, unless such evidence is rebutted or contradicted.
I-b. Except as provided in paragraph IV, a person who violates the provisions of paragraph I shall be guilty of a violation and shall be fined $150 plus penalty assessment for a first offense, and shall be fined not less than $250 nor more than $1,000 for a subsequent offense. In addition, the director may suspend the person's license to drive or nonresident driving privilege for a period of 30 days for a second or subsequent offense.
II. Whenever road conditions and space permit and whenever the number of vehicles following a moving school bus is 5 or more, the driver of the school bus shall pull over and let the following vehicles pass. A driver passing the school bus must do so without driving any part of his vehicle to the left of or across any unbroken painted line marked on the highway.
III. The driver of a vehicle upon a divided highway with separate roadways need not stop when meeting or passing a school bus which is traveling in the opposite direction on the other half of the divided highway, or when upon a controlled access highway if a school bus is stopped in a loading zone which is part of or adjacent to such highway and pedestrians are not permitted to cross the roadway.
IV. Except as provided in paragraph III, no driver of a vehicle who is required to stop his or her vehicle in accordance with paragraph I shall overtake and pass a school bus on the right. A person who violates the provisions of this paragraph shall be guilty of a violation and shall be fined $500 plus penalty assessment. In addition, the director shall suspend the person's license to drive or nonresident driving privilege for a period of up to 30 days for a first offense. For a second or subsequent offense, the person must appear before the court and shall be fined not less than $500 nor more than $1,200 plus penalty assessment. The director shall suspend the person's license to drive or nonresident driving privilege for a period of 30 days for a second offense, and for a period of not less than 30 days nor more than 120 days for a third or subsequent offense.
Some thoughts on this law: Be careful while driving. Do not pass a school bus at times under conditions prohibited by this law. The safest thing to do is to pay attention to the road. However, if you get stopped and the police question you about whether you illegally passed a school bus, it is as unwise to admit to that as it is to admit to any other other crime or motor vehicle violation. Call me at 1-603-893-0074 to discuss your situation if you would like to do so.
Conflicting Provisions: Paragraphs I-b and IV are in conflict with each other regarding penalties for a conviction.
Potentially Unconstitutional Definition of "Sufficient Proof" of Guilt: Paragraph I (a) of this law may be constitutionally challenged as it contains a presumption of guilt if "testimony under oath from the school bus driver or other witness that a vehicle failed to stop and remain stopped as required by paragraph I shall be sufficient evidence to prove that the owner of the vehicle was driving and has violated the provisions of paragraph I". 1. The burden of proof in any criminal or motor vehicle trial is squarely upon the state, not the accused. 2. "Sufficient evidence" does not equal "proof beyond a reasonable doubt". 3. The fact that a "vehicle" allegedly violated this law does not logically prove that the "owner" was driving it at the time. 4. The law does not give any judicial discretion to either credit the witnesses' testimony, discredit it, or credit in in part. All the witness has to do is testify under oath, no matter how credibly or incredibly, to sustain a conviction.
This law creates other encroachments upon the Constitutional rights of the accused, another of which is the law's legal standard that the accused will be convicted if the bus driver or any other witness claims the driver passed the bus, "unless such evidence is rebutted or contradicted." The accused in the United States does not bear any burden of proving her innocence. This law seems to carve out an exception to that guarantee.
If you have been charged with passing a school bus in New Hampshire you are now facing serious consequences for a first offense, even if your record is spotless and even if you did not even illegally pass the bus. Feel free to call me right away at 1-603-893-0074 if you have been charged or are under investigation for passing a school bus.
Attorney Mark Stevens
Law Offices of Mark Stevens
5 Manor Parkway
Salem, NH 03079
Admitted in New Hampshire and Massachusetts
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