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Ask the Law Prof.
By David A. Bailey

For those who don't know me, let me introduce myself. I began my practice of law in Siloam Springs in September, 1996. In May of 2002, I became the City Prosecutor for Siloam Springs. Also in 2002, I began teaching as an Adjunct Law Professor for the University of Arkansas School of Law. In August 2009, I had the opportunity to teach full-time at the law school as a Visiting Professor. This summer I am completing my term as a full-time law professor and returning to my law firm here in Siloam Springs. Beginning this fall, I will resume teaching law school part-time as an Adjunct Law Professor.

Over the past two years, I have had the opportunity to engage in some scholarly writing, mostly aimed at other attorneys or law students. Now that I'm returning to the real practice of law, I thought it would be good to write a column from time to time to educate the public on things in the law which might be of help or interest.

I decided that because school will be resuming very soon, my first column should address the issue of passing a stopped school (or church) bus. Arkansas Code Annotated §27-51-1004 tells us what to do when we approach a stopped school bus. It says that "when a school bus stops and displays its alternating red warning lights for the purpose of loading or unloading passengers, every operator of a motor vehicle or motorcycle meeting or overtaking the school bus from any direction shall bring the motor vehicle or motorcycle to a complete stop before reaching the school bus." That means that we as motorists must stop completely when we see a bus stopped for the purpose of loading or unloading passengers. This applies regardless of whether we are approaching the bus from the front or the rear.

The statute also goes on to state that "the operator of the motor vehicle or motorcycle shall not start up or attempt to pass in any direction until the school bus vehicle has finished receiving or discharging its passengers and is in motion again." This means that we cannot put our vehicles in motion until the flashing lights go out and the bus resumes its motion first.

As the City Prosecutor, I see far too many violations of this law. I know that most, if not all, violators of this law don't intend to violate it. It's almost always caused by inattentiveness or other distractions. I myself have almost violated it. However, the law is clear that a person can be guilty of this crime without having any malicious intent. It is what the law refers to as a "strict liability crime" meaning that if you do the act involved, you're guilty regardless of your intent.

There is one exception to the requirement to stop when you see a stopped school bus. Arkansas Code Annotated §27-51-1005 states that if the bus is stopped on a "multiple lane highway" which is defined as having at least 4 lanes and at least 2 lanes in each direction, and the highway is divided by a parkway or dividing strip at least 20 feet in width, and if the bus is stopped on the other side of the dividing strip, then the driver of the approaching vehicle does not have to stop but must "proceed with due caution for the safety of children."

The penalty for a violation of this law is pretty serious. Arkansas Code Annotated §27-51-1001 provides for a fine of at least $250 up to $1000 and/or up to 90 days in the county jail. The statute goes on to say that the court can also order up to 400 hours of community service and shall suspended your driver's license for at least 21 days up to one year.

Owners of motor vehicles should also use caution when letting others drive their cars. The statute says that there is a rebuttable presumption that the registered owner of the vehicle which passed the stopped school bus was the driver at the time the violation occurred.

We must also follow the same rules regarding stopped school buses when we encounter a stopped church bus (Ark. Code Ann. §27-51-1104). I am writing this in hopes that we will all pay more attention and be on the lookout for school and church buses so we can protect our children.

If you have a legal question that you'd like to see me write about in this column, I invite you to submit it to me via my website Click on the "Ask the lawyer" tab and fill out the form.