Meeting or Overtaking a School Bus – How to Fight This Ticket

Written by Gregory Monte.


I’m Back

Its been a long time since I have written a post in this blog.  I have just been too busy focusing on other interests which have absolutely nothing to do with traffic laws.

So why did I decide to come back?

Well, if you know my story, I started this blog several years ago after my son received what I thought was an unfair traffic ticket for allegedly failing to stop at a stop sign.  Hundreds of hours later, I had produced THE definitive book on how to beat a stop sign ticket in Pennsylvania: The PA Stop Sign Ticket Defense.  My son used the strategy I outlined in that book to win his case.

So, what does that have to do with my return?

Unfortunately, now my daughter has received what I believe is an unfair traffic ticket.  After hearing about it, I went into research mode in order to find a strategy that she could use to possibly beat it.  Her alleged offense, however, is much more serious in nature because the fine/costs of the ticket are $500 and the punishment includes a 60-day suspension of her license if she is found guilty.

She is accused of violating PA Title 75, Section 3345 Meeting or Overtaking a School Bus.


Blast from the Past

Before I get into the specifics of my daughter’s situation, let me mention that I dealt with a related violation a couple of years’ back: Passing a School Bus with Yellow Flashing Lights.  I mention this because some of what I wrote there may be helpful if you have been charged with Meeting or Overtaking a School Bus.  It wasn’t helpful in my daughter’s case because the red lights were already on.


Using My Method

I decided to test the method I laid out on this blog in a resource I called Applying the Traffic Ticket Defense Method.  This worked for my son so I figured I would try it out to analyze my daughter’s case.

There are three steps to this method:

  1. Read/Understand the statute you allegedly violated.
  2. Interpret this statute to see if you really violated it (i.e. look for possible technicalities in the way the law was written that you can take advantage of),
  3. Find case law to either support or reveal any technicalities that exist in the statute.

The Scene of the “Crime”

The yellow square is the approximate position of the school bus and the students were boarding from Lincoln Drive (upper road in the picture).  The red square is my daughter’s car and she was turning right onto Susquehanna Avenue. 

After looking at this picture and following the steps of my method, I came to the conclusion that the police officer was incorrect in issuing a ticket.  Let me be clear – I don’t think he did it on purpose in order to screw over my daughter.  Instead, he probably just didn’t really know how the statute applied in all circumstances.


The Key Issue in this Case

In this particular case, the key issue is whether that large yellow hashed section on Susquehanna Avenue truly divides this highway into two separate “roadways.”  As you will see below as I take you through the steps of my strategy, you don’t have to stop for a school bus if it is on a separate roadway.  This makes sense in this particular situation because, as should be obvious, someone turning at Susquehanna would not endanger in any way students who might be boarding the bus from Lincoln Drive.

Now on to the method …


Step #1

Read/Understand the statute you allegedly violated.

I know this step seems obvious, but when you actually take the time to do this, you start to think of ways that maybe you really didn’t actually violate the law even though the police officer thinks you did.  It is also important to point out that this is just a preliminary understanding of the statute.  The real work begins in Step #2.

So what did I discover upon the initial reading?

First of all, I noticed that there is a specific situation where you are not required to stop for a school bus:

“-Except as provided in subsection (g)”

This exception read as follows:

“(g)  Exceptions from stopping requirements.–The driver of a vehicle upon a highway or trafficway with separate roadways need not stop upon meeting or passing a school bus with actuated red signal lights which is on a different roadway.”

My thought: If my daughter was on a “separate” or “different roadway,” she didn’t need to stop.  I kept this in the back of my mind as I moved on to the remainder of Subsection A.  As you will see later, definitions matter – they matter a whole lot.

I also noticed that the last line of this Subsection specifically refers to duties of a driver at an intersection:

“The driver of a vehicle approaching an intersection at which a school bus is stopped shall stop his vehicle at that intersection until the flashing red signal lights are no longer actuated.”

My thought: It appears that if my daughter was not at an intersection (as legally defined), then there was no requirement to stop for a school bus.  Again, definitions really, really matter.


Step #2 – Interpreting the Statute: Identifying the Potential Technicalities

Interpret this statute to see if you really violated it (i.e. look for possible technicalities in the way the law was written that you can take advantage of).

Reading the statute closely alerted me to numerous other potential technicalities – all of which revolve around the definition of terms.  Each of the following terms is followed by a question that gives you an idea of how I tried to determine if there was a useable technicality hiding beneath the surface. 

Some of the questions may seem silly at first reading, but this is how you need to approach this type of situation.  After all, my son was able to prove in a court of law that a stop sign that was physically and actually present at an intersection was not enforceable because it was never authorized by the town.  In effect, he proved that it technically didn’t exist – even though it was clear for all eyes to see that it was actually there stuck in the ground at the corner of that intersection.

  1. “school bus” – Was it an actual school bus that she allegedly passed (believe it or not, there are specific statutes which define whether a school bus is an actual school bus)?
  2. “operation for non-school purposes” – Was the school bus actually transporting children for school purposes?  This exception is under Subsection (f) and is also related to whether this particular bus was, technically, a school bus.
  3. “highway or trafficway” – Was my daughter actually on a highway or trafficway?
  4. “red signal lights flashing” – Were they flashing?
  5. “side stop signal arms activated” – Were they activated?
  6. “intersection” – Was she at an intersection?
  7. “limitations on use of signals” – Was the bus allowed to use the red signals?  This exception is under Subsection (e) and refers to certain restriction on use of signals in certain urban areas, etc.
  8. “separate roadway” – Was my daughter driving on a separate roadway?  If so then she didn’t have to stop.  This exception is under Subsection (g).

These were some of the main technicalities that I saw when I read through the statute that my daughter allegedly violated.  After confirming that the bus was operating for school purposes and that the lights were definitely on (with the stop arm operating), I decided that only 3), 6) & 8) were worth looking at more closely.


Step #2 (continued) – Interpreting the Statute: Definition of Terms

I narrowed the potential technicalities down further after reading the definitions (PA Title 75, Section 102) of the important terms.  She was clearly on a trafficway (which was also a highway) AND she was at a legally defined intersection – so no way to fight and win the case on these grounds.

The last definition, however, turned out to be the key.  When I did a Ctrl F search on Section 102, the defined term “roadway” wasn’t actually helpful, but the word “roadway” also showed up in a term that I didn’t even realize would be important: “divided highway.”

Divided highway.”  A highway divided into two or more roadways and so constructed as to impede vehicular traffic between the roadways by providing an intervening space, physical barrier or clearly indicated dividing section.

Why was this the key? 

Because this particular definition sheds light on the meaning of the term “separate roadways” which is the one time you ARE allowed to pass a school bus with flashing lights.  It says that if there is “an intervening space, physical barrier or clearly indicated dividing section” then the highway is divided.  And if a highway is divided, there are separate roadways.

Recall the exception mentioned above:

“(g)  Exceptions from stopping requirements.–The driver of a vehicle upon a highway or trafficway with separate roadways need not stop upon meeting or passing a school bus with actuated red signal lights which is on a different roadway.”

My contention is that my daughter was on a separate roadway (see the above picture) because, in her case, there was a “clearly indicated dividing section” between her car and the school bus.  This section I am referring to is the large area bounded by two solid yellow lines with perpendicular connecting yellow lines in between.


Step #3 – Finding the Case Law

Find case law to either support or reveal any technicalities that exist in the statute.

This last step is, arguable, the most important of the three.  After all, why should a judge or anyone else believe MY interpretation of a statue.  Who am I?  Certainly not an attorney.  I’m just a father trying to help his daughter.

When you need someone to back up your interpretation, the best support you can get is from an actual judge who has already laid out his opinion in a case similar to yours.

Best of all, you don’t need some fancy legal database like Lexis/Nexis in order to get this information.  All you need is the website Google Scholar.  You click on Case Law and then select your courts.  Since the alleged offense took place in Pennsylvania, that is what I picked.  As for what to search for, I just used the number of the statute followed by the words school bus: 3345 school bus. 

Forty results were returned.

Fortunately, I didn’t need to click on each result and read it in detail.  Instead, after bringing up the decision I merely had to use Ctrl F again and search for the technicality I had identified in the previous section: separate roadway.

It turned out hat I only found one decision that was helpful: Com. v. Russell, 784 A. 2d 165 – Pa: Superior Court 2001.  Actually, “helpful” is, perhaps, the wrong word because the judge in this case upheld the conviction of the appellant who passed a school bus on State Route 15.  Worse, after my initial reading of this decision I thought that my daughter’s predicament was completely beyond hope.  Consider the judge’s final comment:

“The above facts indicate that the portion of State Route 15, where the appellant passed the stopped school bus, is divided merely by painted yellow lines. The definition above clearly eliminates painted lines as a divider between separate roadways … An exception has been carved out of the general rule where a physical barrier exists between the school children and oncoming traffic. The physical barrier, be it a cement wall or median, can afford children protection against passing motorists where mere painted lines cannot.”

The judge appears to be saying that painted lines do not create separate roadways – only an actual physical barrier does.  In fact, this decision is referenced in the PA School Bus Laws (per PA Ch. 104.  School Bus Loading Zones, Subsection 104.2)

“Two painted yellow lines which separate the northbound and southbound lanes of a highway do not create ‘‘separate roadways’’ as contemplated by 75 Pa.C.S. §  3345(g). A driver on such a highway, approaching an oncoming school bus with its red signal lights flashing, must stop as required by the Motor Vehicle Code. Commonwealth v. Russell, 784 A.2d 165 (Pa. Super. 2001); appeal denied at 796 A.2d 981 (Pa. 2002).”


Hope Springs Eternal?

I know that I am not an attorney and have no formal training in the law, but the judge’s decision just doesn’t sit right with me.  I highlight the specific point that I disagree with in the following quote from his decision:

“The definition above clearly eliminates painted lines as a divider between separate roadways … An exception has been carved out of the general rule where a physical barrier exists between the school children and oncoming traffic.

“Clearly eliminates?”

Recall a definition that I quoted earlier:

Divided highway.”  A highway divided into two or more roadways and so constructed as to impede vehicular traffic between the roadways by providing an intervening space, physical barrier or clearly indicated dividing section.

According to this definition, roadways don’t have to be separated by a “physical barrier.”  They can also be separated by an “intervening space” or a “clearly indicated dividing section.”  While I can understand why he thinks that a double yellow line is not a sufficient, in my daughter’s situation, there appears to be both an “intervening space” and a “clearly indicated dividing section.”


Step #3 – Redux.

Again, I am not an attorney, so why would anyone care to consider my opinion against that of a judge who is purportedly steeped in the law? 

They shouldn’t – and this is why, as before, I need to find another judge/court decision to back up my interpretation of the statute.  This time I need to find another case which further clarifies what is meant by a separate roadway.

When I used Google Scholar, I searched for the term “separate roadways.”  Many of the same cases came up as before, but there was one that I had not read: Slough v. City of Philadelphia, 28 Pa. D. & C. 4th 236 – Pa: Court of Common Pleas 1996.  This case had absolutely nothing to do with school busses, but it did give some insight into the term “separate roadways.”  Here is the section from the opinion that I believe helps my daughter’s case:

“(6) Spring Garden Street has two separate roadways, one eastbound and the other westbound, divided by a median strip or island the purpose of which is to separate opposing streams of traffic.”

Notice that the separate roadways on Spring Garden Street are divided by “a median strip or island.”  Furthermore:

“(9) The purpose of the median strip or traffic island between 18th and 19th Street on Spring Garden is to serve as a barrier separating the traffic lanes. The court finds that a median strip or traffic island serves the same function as vertical barriers which commonly divide highways.”

Here is a picture of Spring Garden Street between 18th and 19th Street.  Notice that there are physical medians below 18th and above 19th Streets but a painted median between those two streets.  According to the judge, this median strip “serves the same function as vertical barriers.”

Below is a close up so you can see that this particular median is not simply a double yellow line as in the Com. v. Russell case, but is more substantial because there is a larger intervening space:

Finally, here is yet another section of Spring Garden Street which contains a separator between the roadways that is similar to that on Susquehanna Street where my daughter allegedly passed the school bus. Notice the yellow lines with perpendicular hashes in between:


Bottom Line

Have I presented an open/shut defense for my daughter?

I wish I could say so, but I must admit that if she challenged this ticket she could lose.  Given that the punishment for a guilty verdict includes an automatic 60-day suspension of her license, I am recommending that she hire an attorney who lives in the town where she got the ticket.  I absolutely hate to admit this, but my hope is that this individual will know the district attorney/police officer and will be able to come to some kind of compromise.

What are the possibilities?

  1. Get the charge lowered because it is a first time offense (i.e. plead guilty to failure to stop, failure to obey a traffic control device, failure to yield at the intersection or something like that).
  2. Plead guilty to a charge with a higher fine but no points and no licence suspension.

Both of these possibilities are offensive to me since I am convinced that she didn’t violate the statute, but it may be the best thing.  After all, if she can’t drive for 60 days she basically won’t be able to work.

So, conceding that using my potential defense strategy is not the best initial course of action, I guess that the only way that I will be able to see if it will actually work or not is if she is found guilty of violating PA Title 75, Section 3345 in the local Magisterial Court.  This will force her to appeal to the Court of Common Pleas at which point she has nothing to lose by presenting my defense strategy.  In that case I will make sure she tries it.  In fact, this is what my son had to do in his stop sign case.  The local Magisterial Court judge didn’t buy it and he had to appeal to a higher court.  When he presented the same argument there, he ended up winning.

Her initial court date is 5/17/22.

I will keep you posted on events as they unfold.


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