Hypothetically, if someone who owned a school bus legally drove said school bus to a bus stop 3 minutes before the stop would ordinarily be made, allowed schoolchildren to board without speaking, then proceeded to drive them to their normal destination of school, unharmed, would this possibly result in charges being levied?

If so, what charges could be brought against such an individual?

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    I'd think that the question title is a bit misleading. Surely, luring children into a bus under false premise wouldn't count as "harmlessly appearing to be", would it? Much like sticking my reproductive organ into a drunk, unconscious woman wouldn't count as "tripped and fell on her, accidentially". Maybe that's just me, but I see nothing harmless in that endeavor.
    – Damon
    Dec 13, 2019 at 13:52
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    @Damon: the OPs premise states the kids will be driven to the school unharmed, so we can take it as a fact there aren't other more dangerous motives, so the comparison to a rapist is not relevant. Dec 13, 2019 at 16:03
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    @whatsisname : I read Damon's comment to be pointing out the difference between "appearing" and taking a series of specific, non-trivial actions; i.e., acting like a school bus driver by allowing the children to unknowingly board a bus that is not actually their bus and driving them to school far outstrips the usual meaning of "appearing"
    – landru27
    Dec 13, 2019 at 16:33
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    @EricDuminil This question baffled me, but then I remembered that there are people with obsessions with certain modes of transportation. Sam, I hope you were not even remotely considering this yourself, and are just morbidly curious or doing research for a script. Legality aside, there would be serious ethical offenses, including infliction of emotional distress. While they might be "unharmed" physically, it would inevitably be noticed before long, and even if delivery was made before panic erupted, it'd leave parents and children shaken.
    – Jacob C.
    Dec 13, 2019 at 21:53
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    Please tell me you aren't asking this question from a police station.
    – Richard
    Dec 14, 2019 at 9:24

5 Answers 5


Setting aside kidnapping, child-endangerment, etc., there are a host of laws requiring the bus and the driver to have special licenses (ie, a commercial drivers license), inspections (including a physical and regular drug tests), training, insurance and so on. Breaking any of these laws is a crime. In most states, these crimes are treated as misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors, so the largest penalty will be something like a year in jail and/or $5,000 fine.

In other words: Even before the prosecutor gets to the serious stuff, the driver is in trouble.

For those of you who want to dig into the details, this page breaks out what you need to do to become a school bus driver in CA. This page links to the manuals for drivers and buses in WA, along with a list of all of the specific laws and administrative codes involved.

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    Assume that the driver has a CDL and the vehicle is licensed. The guy can legally drive the bus. Now add children: what specific laws were broken? Pick your favorite jurisdiction.
    – user6726
    Dec 13, 2019 at 0:35
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    @Justaguy Most of these laws seem to rely on him being an actual school bus driver. In this scenario he's not a school bus driver, just a guy driving a car that looks like a school bus (but isn't actually affiliated with any school). He'd probably need the right kind of license to operate a vehicle that large, but he doesn't have to undergo any of the inspections that city bus or school bus drivers undergo because he isn't one.
    – Omegastick
    Dec 13, 2019 at 9:56
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    why on Earth are you "setting aside kidnapping, child-endangerment, etc."?!? to the parents of the children to whom this happens, the technical details about CDLs, inspections, insurance, and so forth are going to be the least of their concerns : in the imagined scenario, their children were under the power of a person not authorized to be in that position; and, the parents aren't going to be okay with it if it happens again but this time the driver happens to have a CDL, etc. -- kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment, child endangerment, and related matters are at the heart of the matter
    – landru27
    Dec 13, 2019 at 16:57
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    @landru27 I don't think the answer is intending to suggest that those other matters aren't relevant. Instead, the answer seems to be suggesting that there are already illegal actions being taken before you even get to that point. The answer says "Even before the prosecutor gets to the serious stuff." This answer does no belittle the serious problems, it simply attempts to point out other additional problems.
    – Aaron
    Dec 13, 2019 at 17:06
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    @Aaron and Just a guy : I stand corrected, and I apologize; in retrospect, I misread "setting aside ..." in light of the OP using "appearing" to describe actively driving off with children and Ruther Rendommeleigh, below, characterizing such abduction as "simply being in a vehicle that you can leave at any point" -- as if using harmless-sounding words changes the nature of one's actions; context matters enormously, and I mistook your opening phrase as ignoring that context; it's my fault ... but would you consider re-phrasing it as "In addition to ..."? in any case, thanks for your feedback
    – landru27
    Dec 13, 2019 at 18:00

In Washington, it would be unlawful imprisonment but not kidnapping. To kidnap, one must abduct, which

means to restrain a person by either (a) secreting or holding him or her in a place where he or she is not likely to be found, or (b) using or threatening to use deadly force

That is not the case in this scenario. "Restrain"

means to restrict a person's movements without consent and without legal authority in a manner which interferes substantially with his or her liberty. Restraint is "without consent" if it is accomplished by (a) physical force, intimidation, or deception, or (b) any means including acquiescence of the victim, if he or she is a child less than sixteen years old or an incompetent person and if the parent, guardian, or other person or institution having lawful control or custody of him or her has not acquiesced.

When you are in a vehicle, your movements are restricted, and given that this is children (unless this is high school kids), it is without consent. One is

guilty of unlawful imprisonment if he or she knowingly restrains another person.

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    Does the answer assume that the passengers would be prevented from leaving? I don't see how simply being in a vehicle that you can leave at any point would restrict a person's movement. Dec 13, 2019 at 11:59
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    @RutherRendommeleigh "at any point" such as when driving fast enough that jumping out would probably result in serious injury? And that's without knowing whether the bus has doors that lock when in motion.
    – Chris H
    Dec 13, 2019 at 12:02
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    @Chris H - Where I live, people don't usually jump out of moving vehicles, they ask the driver to stop and open the door. Dec 13, 2019 at 12:06
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    If they refuse to let you out, that is a problem, yes. Dec 13, 2019 at 12:07
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    @RutherRendommeleigh apart from the old London Routemaster bus that's my experience too. I'd be surprised if a school bus driver would stop at an arbitrary point to let a passenger off, so an imposter could probably get away with it.
    – Chris H
    Dec 13, 2019 at 12:09

Possession of a school bus for improper purpose

Since you've said "pick your jurisdiction", here. Florida 316.72 makes it a misdemeanor to merely possess such a school bus.

Awkwardly, the statute misses prohibiting the prank itself, but certainly does forbid everything necessary to lead up to the prank: Buying a school bus without obliterating marks and colors; continuing to own it in colors; and using for any other purpose in colors. Take it to Home Depot to buy some plywood, boom, violation.

316.72 Buses simulating school buses in color and insignia; conditions of use.
(1) It shall be unlawful for any person, except a governmental unit or agency operating as provided by law, to use on the public highways of the state any bus of an orange or yellow color known as “school bus chrome,” or any color purporting to resemble the color of a school bus, for any purpose other than to transport persons to and from educational or recreational facilities or institutions or to and from events or activities which are sponsored, financed, or supervised by educational, recreational, religious, or charitable organizations. When said vehicle has ceased to be so used, or is used for the transportation of passengers other than for said purpose, its use shall be unlawful unless and until said bus has been changed from said colors to some other color by repainting and unless and until all signs and insignia which mark or designate it as a school bus have been removed therefrom.

You can weasel that this doesn't strictly prohibit what you are doing. The problem is the chain of custody of the vehicle: it was required to be de-marked the moment it left school bus service.

You will have committed this crime by being in possession, not promptly removing, and maintaining the look of a school bus, with the intent of doing this stunt, even if the actual doing of the stunt does not violate this code.

Kidnapping, still

There are a couple of things that will nail you.

First, when you join the route partially, it means that the first boarding kids will see an empty bus when they don't expect to. They may also notice not all their friends are being picked up. First, you'll have to interact with them about that; which means you are lying already. And second, they're gonna be on their phones telling everyone about it.

Meanwhile, you're early. Children walking to the bus stop, with line-of-sight to same, will see you come and go. Presuming they have missed the bus, they'll run home so their parents can take them. And now the parents are calling the school.

Meanwhile, transit-bus dynamics are working against you, specifically the "bus bunching" effects. Anybody who rides busy transit lines has found themselves on a "follower" bus, picking up few people, making few stops, while getting closer and closer to the bus on the schedule ahead. That "leader" is picking up all the business, and taking more time doing it, while you pick up little, and quickly catch up.

Now you're the leader. Your follower is the legitimate school bus. You're doing most of its business, so it's catching up fast. In no time, it's in sight distance of you, seeing you doing it -- Boom! Call 9-1-1.

You're cursed either way - start later to reduce bus bunching, and you get suspicious kids.

The state will assert that your plan was to diverge before the school, and abduct the children. Your entire logic is that you'll have an airtight defense: that you did in fact drop them off at the school, drove away empty, and all kids are accounted for and unmussed.

You'll never get to the school. Between the proper school bus and the police, all of whom have radio, they will cut you off and box you in, with the mama-bear fervor of protecting their children.

Wrath and fury

If you followed the Mooninite incident of 2007, you know the authorities can be ridiculously unfair. What, in 20/20 hindsight, were obviously advertising street art, was classified by the authorities as a "hoax device" - literally, a fake bomb designed to terrorize. Further, the authorities blamed the ad agency for every single bit of the civil disturbance that was actually caused by the police overreacting - evacuations, road diversions, closed subway lines, thousands of police hours.

So even in the happiest possible case where you let your chargés off at the school without suspicion or incident, and are 5 miles gone before the cops stop you, and are somehow able to keep all this in the civil or misdemeanor realm... They're still gonna go full-metal-stupid on you. They'll charge you with kidnaping, saying that was your intent, but you took them to school because you wimped out. The kids will be none the wiser until the investigators and trauma counselers drag them into rooms and tell them what a terrifying ordeal they suffered. They'll have PTSD for years.

And of course, the families will come after you civilly for the fright you put them through, and the long-term PTSD treatments. Liabilities from this kind of act can't be cleared in bankruptcy, so you'll be paying for the rest of your life.

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    If I read your Florida law literally, the impersonator is illegal only if he drives it for a purpose other than taking kids to school!
    – WGroleau
    Dec 14, 2019 at 2:36
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    @WGroleau As I already discuss, that statute manages to miss outlawing the prank itself, but it prohibits everything leading up to it: acquiring it and failing to timely remove school bus marks and colors. and all uses of the vehicle (including idle ownership) prior to the prank. Dec 14, 2019 at 2:46
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    “When it has ceased to be so used,” but in OP’s scenario, the Weirdo is still so using it! I understand the intent of the law, but I once got out of a legitimate ticket merely by pointing out the literal interpretation of the law, even though the intent was obvious.
    – WGroleau
    Dec 14, 2019 at 2:50
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    316.72 says "use", not "possess", (and that's in the context of "use on the public highways of the state") so I don't think your claims that it's illegal to possess a yellow bus quite hold up. "Idle ownership" is not "use". Florida legislators know how to use the word "possess" when that's what the law means.
    – D M
    Dec 14, 2019 at 3:02
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    @Harper-ReinstateMonica If the law was interpreted as "you drove it from the dealership and that's not transporting children so you're in violation", that would be untenable for private bus companies. And you could get around it by transporting 1 person (yourself) to the library on the way home. Also see Florida law 775.021 - "The provisions of this code and offenses defined by other statutes shall be strictly construed; when the language is susceptible of differing constructions, it shall be construed most favorably to the accused."
    – D M
    Dec 14, 2019 at 5:54

Many crimes are to some extend implicitly defined by motive, whether or not the statutes explicitly specify all the cases in which a person's demonstrable motives or other circumstances may partially or totally absolve them of guilt. During Hurricane Katrina, for example, a man named Jabbar Gibson took a school bus from a parking lot in New Orleans, invited many people to board, and drove with those people to the Houston Astrodome. Even though the statutes about vehicle theft or proper uses of school buses would have no provisions authorizing his behavior, no jury aware of the circumstances would convict him. The bus would have been destroyed by flooding if he hadn't removed it, and the people he invited onto the bus were safety delivered to shelter in Texas.

If someone were found to be picking up children in a school bus, and were caught before delivering the children to school, it may be difficult or impossible for the driver to prove that his intentions were honorable, and a jury might be inclined to believe the worst absent evidence to the contrary. If, however, the person could show that he had a reasonable belief that he had been asked to fill in for a driver who couldn't make the rounds (e.g. he received a phony email requesting such relief), then even if his actions had not in fact been authorized, prosecution would be unlikely.

If the person had no justification for trying to deliver the children to school, and his actions caused alarm when the real bus driver showed up, but he could be shown to have no intention of doing anything else other than delivering the children, then he would most likely be prosecuted for disorderly conduct or other similar offense (a catch-all for unreasonable actions which result in public alarm necessitating police involvement), as well as perhaps civil penalties if e.g. he had been licensed as a bus driver. It's doubtful the driver would get off without some sort of penalty in the absence of some justification for his actions, but if he could be shown not to have had any ill intent toward the passengers he would be unlikely to be prosecuted for crimes which presume more sinister intent.


This answer presumes that when the question says "someone who owned a school bus legally drove said school bus", you're referring to one of those long vehicles capable of having many people sit on them, which are often painted yellow, may even have the word "school bus" printed on it.

It seems that the question may need to be more specific, as different laws can exist in different places. (Examples follow.)

Harper's answer mentions Florida 316.72, which seems to have some strict requirements about school buses.

On the literal other side of (the "continental US" portion of) the nation, Just a guy's answer provides a hyperlink to a spot on a government-ish website from the State of Washington, which is Office of SuperIntendent, of Public Education: Student Transportation: Publications and Bullitens/Memos which describe a school bus.

However, I tack on my explanation, which also hails from Washington State. For about seven years, I spent 4-7 hours nearly every Saturday evening/night helping homeless people I could find. I remember coming across a long vehicle that looked to me like it was a "school bus". This vehicle looked somewhat old, maybe a bit beat up, and was parked on a largely abandoned road. I encountered the person who seemed to be living in the vehicle.

I thought this was a very attention-gathering scenario so when somebody came out of this vehicle (apparently living in it), I asked him about whether he was risking trouble with legal authorities by living in a school bus. He explained to me that what he was living in was not a school bus.

I pointed out to him that this was shaped like a bus, and this long vehicle was yellow (the traditional color for a school bus in this part of the world), and the words "SCHOOL BUS" were still quite clearly printed on the back side.

He explained to me that since nearly all of the seats were removed from the vehicle, it was no longer a school bus. This wasn't just him spouting off some drunken non-sense. He did endeavor to handle the situation legally, and the vehicle was appropriately licensed and insured. Specifically, the vehicle was legally insured as a "recreational vehicle" (an "RV").

Indeed, what I found is that the main source of legal information I know of for the state, the commonly-cited "Regulatory Code of Washington", include Washington Administrative Code 391-143-010 where the first part of that legal text says:

(1) "School bus" means every vehicle <STRONG>with a seating capacity of more than ten persons</STRONG> including the driver regularly used to transport students to and from school or in connection with school activities.

So, not only was the vehicle no longer "regularly used to transport students", but since the person had removed nearly all of the seats in the back side of the bus, it no longer had enough seats for 10 people. Quite literally, this no longer fit the legal definition of a "school bus". Absurdly, even despite the markings that identified it as a school bus, it was now an RV. Officially. (Just ask the insurance company.)

Do keep in mind that there may be legitimate reasons why someone may want to transport children other than to be part of the local official public school district's efforts to re-locate the children. Examples could include organizations like a Day Care, a Youth Activity Center (perhaps a "YMCA"), or a church. My father picked up (college-aged) people using a church bus, and while he did have a Commercial Driver's License enabling him to drive large vehicles (which was probably not a necessity), no specific licensing was required for operating a "bus".

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