PENNSYLVANIA (WHTM) — A bill to strengthen traffic laws regarding school bus safety has unanimously passed to Pennsylvania State Senate.

Senate Bill 897, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20), aims to increase financial penalties for violating school bus traffic laws, establish enhanced penalties for repeat offenders, and “generally make the loading and unloading of students safer.”

SB 897 would extend the stopping distance requirement to 15 feet before reaching a school bus while it has its red signal lights flashing and its side stop signal arm activated.

“Violators of school traffic laws are fundamentally guilty of one of two offenses – aggressive or distracted driving. Neither is defensible nor acceptable,” Baker said in a statement about the bill. “Deaths and injuries are entirely preventable.”

“Pennsylvania is one of only a few states with a mere 10-foot stopping distance. Creating this extra buffer gives students more space to safely walk around the stopped bus and sends a message to motorists that this safety zone cannot be ignored,” Baker said.

If passed, the bill would also make repeat offenders subject to driver’s license suspension and accumulation of points, plus an increased fine and completion of either a driver improvement school, or examination testing determined by PennDOT. 

This move comes during National School Bus Safety Week.

Pennsylvania court data released by PA Courts Infoshare also shows the highest percentage of school zone and bus citations between 2018 and 2022 were issued in October, at 15%. The next highest month was September (14%), followed by March (11%).

“As we observe National School Bus Safety Week, we are reminded there are too many reports of drivers ignoring the traffic safety laws regarding school zones and buses,” Baker said. “This measure is directed toward reversing this trend and providing for greater public safety.”

SB 897 will now go the the House for further consideration.