Welcome to the newest feature on our Ziff Law blogs, Q & A.
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Our question today is adapted from my March 12 appearance on “Law Talk,” a segment at about 12:20 p.m. during the WETM News at Noon on Wednesdays. In “Law Talk,” the Ziff Law lawyers talk about legal issues, often in connection with news events.
Jim Reed: A school bus being operated on the road is not any different than any other vehicle. The bus driver has an obligation to drive safely, so that means in bad weather conditions, the bus driver should reduce his speed and make sure the vehicle is properly equipped with snow tires and other safety equipment.
Bus drivers must answer to the same laws as other motorists.
Over the years, I have handled a number of bus accident cases. In one case, a school bus driver rear-ended the back of another bus and was ticketed for Following Too Closely like any other driver who rear-ended another vehicle.
Also, as an employer of the school bus driver, a school district can be held liable for the negligence of its employee. In other words, if a school bus driver causes a collision that injures someone, both the bus driver and the school district that employs him can be held liable.
Q: Schools were closed March 12 because of an approaching winter storm, which dumped ice and varied amounts of snow across the Twin Tiers. Some parents, seeing only rain in the morning, raised objections based on the conditions they saw at that hour.
Jim: School superintendents are trying to make decisions based on weather forecasts and a reasonable assessment of the road conditions that exist at the time or in the near future. Obviously, these superintendents are trying to make the best decision possible based upon their assessment of the conditions.
On March 12, a lot of people early in the day were saying, “It’s just raining. Why is there a snow day?” I believe the schools superintendents made the decision to close schools for the day because the conditions were forecast to dramatically deteriorate in the afternoon. The superintendents knew they could get the children to school safely but they weren’t sure about getting them home safely in the forecasted ice and snow conditions.
Even though I know it bothers parents when schools are closed when conditions don’t seem that bad, I think most superintendents would rather be safe than sorry.
In the area around Elmira, Horseheads and Corning, we have a lot of rural roads where all that stands between a school bus and a large drop-off is a small guardrail. A bus sliding on snow and ice could easily drive through that guardrail, sending the bus over the edge and likely causing a horrible accident.
The bottom line for the schools, and for all of us, is this: “Be safe, be smart and slow down!” If in doubt, stay home until the road crews have done their work.
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