ACLU-PA Position: Opposes
SB 897 would increase fines and impose enhanced penalties for repeat offenses for school bus-related traffic violations. These measures would likely do little to prevent people from dangerous driving in school zones, as current penalties are significant already. According to this recent infographic from AOPC (Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts), traffic citations in school zones are fairly low in most Pennsylvania counties, including citations for overtaking a school bus. Statewide, this appears to comprise slightly more than 1 percent of all citations. There is no evidence that ratcheting up fines will result in a decrease in the 1,000 citations issued annually for passing a school bus, especially considering that violations currently result in a license suspension.
Furthermore, SB 897 will compound the problems of debt-based license suspension practices in PA. Considering that more than 30% of people cited for that traffic offense are under the age of 29, it's more likely that they will not be able to pay the fines or may fail to respond to the citation, which begins a never ending cycle of fines and license suspensions. According to this 2019 study, Driver’s License Suspensions and the Impact on Young People in Pennsylvania (p. 2), “the most common reason for license suspension was failure to pay a fine received as the result of a motor vehicle citation (36%), followed by failure to respond to a citation (17%); both reasons result in license suspension of indefinite length. From 2014 through 2017, 124,650 young people received an indefinite license suspension. The prominence of these two categories suggest that the suspensions are directly, or indirectly, connected to the ability to pay” (emphasis added).
Imposing an across-the-board fine increase is the same failed logic used to justify mandatory minimums. Needlessly increasing penalties, which we know do not have any deterrent effect, only exacerbates financial inequalities between people who can afford to have an attorney represent them at a traffic hearing and those who cannot.
Finally, imposing an across-the-board fine increase only exacerbates financial inequalities between people who can afford to have an attorney represent them at a traffic hearing and those who cannot.
Check the bill's status here.