Skip to content

Acquitted because of Bad Grammar

December 2, 2010

The Washington Post‘s Tom Jackman reports of a most grammatically egregious situation:

Dropped ‘at’ in Va. law yields acquittal in school bus case

Virginia law on passing a stopped school bus has been clear for 40 years. Here – read it yourself:

“A person is guilty of reckless driving who fails to stop, when approaching from any direction, any school bus which is stopped on any highway, private road or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children.”

Yes, drivers must stop a school bus which is, er, stopped.

Wait. Is something missing there?

Indeed. The preposition “at” was deleted in 1970 when the law was amended, the statute’s history shows. And a man who zipped past a school bus, while it was picking up children with its lights flashing and stop sign extended, was found not guilty recently by a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge.

“He can only be guilty if he failed to stop any school bus,” Judge Marcus D. Williams said at the end of the brief trial of John G. Mendez, 45, of Woodbridge. “And there’s no evidence he did.”

Read more of the article here. Also, check out Marc Lierberman’s extensive discussion of different possible grammatical reasons for the present wording at Language Log.

(HT: Dr Platypus)

Advertisements
One Comment leave one →
  1. December 6, 2010 8:11 pm

    I actually think that it could have been even more clear were the commas not merely removed but re-located. He proposed:

    “A person is guilty of reckless driving who fails to stop when approaching from any direction any school bus which is stopped on any highway, private road or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children.”

    One could also construct it:

    “A person is guilty of reckless driving who fails to stop when approaching, from any direction, any school bus which is stopped on any highway, private road or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children.”

    I think the latter would make it unequivocally clear that “any school bus” is the direct object of “approaching.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: