Sharing the roads with school buses can be frustrating. They’re like mobile stop lights, and when the lights flash, it may add a few moments to an early commute to work or weary drive home. But buses have their unique safety features and stopping laws because they carry our most precious cargo, and driving infractions carry stiffer penalties for motorists giving way to their frustration – or distraction. When you see a school bus, have some patience, and remember these laws so you can  help keep everyone safe.

First, here’s a couple thoughts on why it’s important to pay close attention to what school buses are doing as you share the roads with them. School buses are big, which means they decrease visibility around them. What’s around them? Kids, of course. Because they’re walking on or near the road, kids are more in danger of being hit by a car when they get on or off buses. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, from 2005 to 2014, 36 percent of school-age pedestrians that died in school transportation-related crashes were struck by another vehicle on the road. You don’t want to be the driver that hits a child. States have enacted specific laws and stiffer penalties for driving infractions that occur around school buses for this reason. 

Here are some basic rules to follow to keep everyone safe:

  • Every school bus is required to stop at all railroad crossings. 
  • School buses travel at slower speeds and often stop and start. Expect to slow down and hit the brakes, and don’t pass illegally.
  • School buses have a stop sign that appears when the door is opened. Drivers in both directions must stop when that sign appears, and/or when there are red flashing lights on the bus. Also, buses have yellow flashing lights to warn of an upcoming stop, so begin to slow down when you see them.

Washington’s school bus safety laws are specific and fines for infractions that take place around a bus can be double what they’d cost otherwise. Here is what drivers need to know:

  • Drivers must stop when the bus driver signals that it’s safe to do so, or resumes motion. 
  • Drivers on a divided highway don’t have to stop when a bus in the opposite direction signals to do so. 
  • If the road has three or more lanes, drivers approaching a school bus in the opposite direction do not have to stop.

Other states carry even stiffer penalities. In New York, for example, the first time you fail to stop, you may face a fine between $250 and $400, up to 30 days in jail, and 5 additional points on your driving record (by comparison, running a stop sign nets you 3 points). And the penalty becomes harsher for every subsequent violation.

If you’re convicted of violating Pennsylvania’s stopping-for-buses law, you could lose your license for 60 days, get 5 points on your driving record, and be fined $250.

So… when should you stop?

In every state, it’s illegal to pass a school bus that’s loading or unloading students. Always stop when the bus is in the process of unloading students on:

  • Public highways
  • Multilane roads
  • Parking lots
  • School property

Another thing to consider: school buses occasionally travel in caravans. If a school bus in front of you has another bus in front of it that’s letting kids on or off, you must stop for that bus as well.

Overall, it’s not easy to drive a school bus, and fellow drivers can do a lot to help drivers. By learning to share the road with buses and following your state’s stopping laws, you can make a bus driver’s job a bit easier. You’ll protect the kids and help keep your driving record nice and clean in the process.

Further reading: 

Tips for kids and parents on school bus riding safety

If your kids are hurt while riding public transportation, learn more on what to do. Bill’s 20 years of legal experience in Bellingham and Whatcom County enables him to efficiently oversee all aspects of a complex transit accident claim.

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