School Bus Safety Rules You Should Know

Did you know that school bus safety laws have made getting to school in buses safer than cars? According to the American School Bus Council (ASBC), children are 70 times more likely to get to school safely by taking the school bus instead of riding in a car.

Every time you get behind the wheel, you’re responsible for making sure that statistic remains true.

There’s a reason there are significant fees and penalties associated with violating any traffic law concerning a school bus. Doing so puts innocent children in the direct line of harm. School bus safety rules exist for a very important reason.

Are you ready to start driving more safely to protect the lives of the littlest in your community?

Buckle up and read on to learn everything you need to know.

Knowing When to S-T-O-P

Almost anywhere you go in the United States, it’s illegal for drivers to pass a school bus that’s fully stopped to drop off or pick up passengers. This is true regardless of the direction from which they’re approaching.

What does that mean for you?

It means any time you encounter a bus at a full stop, with its school bus stop sign out and lights flashing, there’s only one move to make: stop.

Yellow Lights Versus Red Lights

When the bus driver signals with yellow lights, this indicates that the bus is about to stop to pick up or drop off children. Most states require that drivers reduce their speeds to 20 miles per hour or less as soon as these warning lights appear.

On the other hand, red lights, accompanied by an extended stop-arm signal, mean that it’s come to a complete stop to allow the children on or off. In the event that there is an issue with the bus (e.g. engine failure, no gas), there are certain officials who have the power to wave traffic on, even if a school bus is displaying a flashing red light. These officials include:

  • School crossing guards
  • Police officers
  • School bus drivers themselves

With so many intricacies, it’s important to stay on your guard and always keep your eyes on the road.

Same-Side Stop Requirements

When the bus door opens and children enter and exit the bus or cross the street, they might not be aware of their surroundings, including any other vehicles that might be on the road. Across the nation, the rules surrounding this law are relatively aligned.

In every state, you must stop when the bus stops if you’re on the same side of the road as the bus in a non-highway area or residential neighborhood. There are no exceptions to this law. Keep a safe distance between your car and the bus. When the red lights stop flashing, the stop arm retracts, and the bus resumes moving, you can too.

In most states, this law also applies to the other side of the road, too. That means if you’re traveling from any direction, you stop as soon as the bus stops, and move forward once the bus deems it appropriate.

State-Specific Variations

Some states, such as Florida, designate different regulations for drivers on the opposite side of the road as a stopped school bus.

If you’re traveling on a two-lane road in the Sunshine State, all vehicles traveling in either direction must stop for a stopped school bus. This also applies if you’re traveling in a multi-lane road that’s paved across (no raised median).

On the other hand, if you’re traveling along a divided highway with a raised median, physical barrier or unpaved space at least five feet across, the rules are a little different. In this situation, all vehicles traveling in the same direction as the bus must stop. However, those traveling in the opposite direction can proceed with caution.

Washington, however, takes a different approach. All the way across the country, the law states that motorists traveling in the same direction as a stopped school bus must stop when the bus’ stop-arm is extended and its red lights are flashing.

However, if the road has three or more lanes (including turn lanes), then drivers traveling in the opposite direction aren’t required to stop when the bus stops. They’re only bound by that law on two-lane roads.

School Bus Camera Laws

The stop laws we described above seem easy enough.

However, in 2017, nearly 105,000 school bus drivers observed almost 78,000 vehicles passing their buses illegally on a single day. Expanded throughout a 180-day academic year, those results suggest that private motorists perform more than 14 million violations annually.

In response, a growing number of states are allowing school buses to be equipped with stop-arm cameras to catch these perpetrators. These high-resolution cameras affix to the outside of the school bus and automatically detect any violating vehicle as it passes through the enforced stop zone. They can capture both still images, as well as videos.

In the event that you’re caught illegally passing a stopped school bus, the footage from these cameras could help the police track down your license plate and charge you with the crime.

School Bus Seat Belts

Across the board, school buses are inherently safer than passenger vehicles.

In addition to being visibly well-marked, they’re also designed to specifically avoid crashes and prevent injury. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that an average of six children die in a school bus crash each year, compared to the approximately 2,000 children killed in motor vehicle crashes.

The crux of their safety features hinges on the buses’ compartmentalized design. Students sit in seat spaced close together, leaning against high seat backs specially designed to be as energy-absorbing as possible.

Still, eight states to date have taken steps to further enhance the safety of their school buses, requiring that each one include seat belt installations. These states include:

  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • California
  • Nevada
  • Louisiana
  • New Jersey
  • Texas
  • New York

Yet, even these laws aren’t cut and dry. In Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, for instance, seat belt regulations can be appropriated, approved or denied by local jurisdictions. There are also nuances within the law itself. For instance, Washington D.C. doesn’t deploy large, traditional school buses, but the state does require that all students riding school transportation vehicles be safely restrained by a seat belt.

While this specific law might not affect you as a private vehicle driver, it’s important to understand that school bus drivers, as well as the children they transport, are also subjected to laws that define how they ride and operate. In 2015, the NHTSA announced that it supports the installation of three-point lap and shoulder belts on school buses, with the National Safety Council (NSC) quickly following suit.

Keys to Driving Defensively

You’d never intentionally violate a school bus law, but a school bus accident can happen at any time. That’s why it pays to be as diligent as possible every time you turn on your ignition.

First, understand when most school-bus-related accidents occur. These are most frequent from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m., when children are entering the bus to go to school. In the same vein, they’re also common between 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., when they’re coming home.

A few of the ways you can drive as diligently and defensively as possible include:

  • Look twice before backing out of your garage or driveway
  • Drive slowly through neighborhoods
  • Be aware of any children near bus stops
  • Learn and understand the school bus laws in your state

Penalties for Violating School Bus Safety Rules

The specific penalties you’ll face for violating a school bus law depend on your state. In every instance, however, these punishments are harsh and severe, and for good reason. If you’re caught on the wrong side of the law, you could face:

  • Hefty fees
  • Traffic ticket
  • Hours of defensive driving coursework/training
  • Hours of community service
  • Suspension of your license
  • Misdemeanor charges
  • Felony charges
  • Points against your driving record
  • Higher insurance premiums

Reclaim Your Life Following a School Bus Safety Violation

If you’ve been charged with a school bus violation, it can feel like the end of the world. Yet, these repercussions are there for a reason.

Failing to obey your state’s school bus safety rules puts one of our country’s most vulnerable populations at risk. That’s why it’s important to stay diligent and always on your guard.

However, you don’t have to let this charge ruin or redefine the rest of your life. Are you facing sky-high increases to your insurance premiums as a result of one offense? Has the court ordered you to take a defensive driving course?

In both cases, we can help. We offer full-video, mobile-friendly online driver training courses that can satisfy court requirements, help lower your premiums, and get you back on your feet.

Go here to select your state, learn more and get started today!

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