North Carolina Department of Justice
North Carolina Department of Justice
North Carolina Department of Justice
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April 26, 1978

Subject:

Motor Vehicles; Passing a Stopped School Bus G.S. 2-217

Requested By:

Colonel John T. Jenkins Commanding North Carolina State Highway Patrol

Questions:

1. Is a five-lane highway (two lanes of (traffic in each direction and a center left turn only lane) without any physical barrier or median considered two separate roadways within the purview of

G.S. 20-217?

  1. Is it unlawful to pass a properly marked school bus stopped for the purpose of receiving or discharging passengers and displaying its mechanical stop signal when the bus is operating on such a five-lane highway??

  2. Is it unlawful to pass a properly marked school bus stopped for the purpose of receiving or discharging passengers when the bus is displaying its mechanical stop signal on a four-lane highway with no physical barrier or median of any kind to separate the lanes?

  3. Is it unlawful to pass a properly marked school bus stopped for the purpose of receiving or discharging passengers when the bus is displaying its mechanical stop signal and is located on a privately owned or maintained street or roadway, as in a subdivision or trailer park?

Conclusions:

  1. No.

  2. Yes.

  3. Yes.

  4. Yes.

G.S. 20-217 provides:

Motor vehicles to stop for properly marked and designated school buses in certain instances. The driver of any vehicle upon approaching from any direction on the same street or highway any school bus (including privately owned buses transporting children), while such bus is displaying its mechanical stop signal, or is stopped for the purpose of receiving or discharging passengers, shall bring his vehicle to a full stop before passing or attempting to pass such bus, and shall remain stopped until the mechanical stop signal has been withdrawn or until the bus has moved on. The driver of a vehicle upon any interstate or other controlled access highway need not stop upon meeting or passing a school bus which is in the roadway across the dividing space or physical barrier separating the roadways.

The provisions of this section are applicable only in the event the school bus bears upon the front and rear a plainly visible sign containing the words "School Bus" in letters not less than eight inches in height.

Any person violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a [*3] misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be fined not to exceed Two Hundred Dollars ($200.00) or imprisoned not to exceed ninety days.

It should be carefully noted that the statute exempts a motorist from stopping for a school bus only when the bus is operated on an interstate or other controlled access highway and is separated from the driver's vehicle by a dividing space or physical barrier separating the roadways. G.S. 20-4.01(38) defines roadway as "that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the shoulder." A left-hand lane is clearly used for vehicular travel. It poses no barrier to a vehicle desiring to cross from one side of the highway to the other. Therefore, the highway described above is clearly one roadway.

A motorist approaching, from either direction, a lawfully stopped school bus (as described in

G.S. 20-217) on such a five-lane highway would be under a statutory duty to stop. The exemption in the statute would not apply in such a situation. A motorist approaching a school bus on a four-lane highway, with no physical barrier of dividing space, would also be under a statutory duty to halt his vehicle for [*4] a lawfully stopped school bus. The statutory exemption is available only (1) where the bus is physically separated from the motorist's vehicle by a barrier or dividing space and (2) the road is part of the interstate system or is designated as a controlled access highway.

Under the statute the motorist's duty to stop for a school bus exists only when the bus is on a street or highway. G.S. 20-4.01(46) defines a street as "the entire width between property or right of way lines of every way or place of whatever nature, when any part thereof is open to the use of the public as a matter of right for the purposes of vehicular traffic." Therefore, even though not maintained by the State, a particular area may be a street if it is in fact open to vehicular traffic as a matter or right. This is an issue of fact, to be determined from the circumstances as they exist in each case. A subdivision or trailer access road may well be a street when no attempt to exclude the public is made, even though it is privately owned and maintained.

As a practical matter, local authorities may request the Department of Transportation to post signs along the highways in question reminding motorists that [*5] it is unlawful to pass a stopped, properly marked school bus displaying its mechanical stop signal. Law enforcement officials might also request school authorities to minimize bus use of such highways and warn drivers and students of the dangers involved.

Rufus L. Edmisten Attorney General

David Roy Blackwell Associate Attorney