School’s back in session, and that means those big yellow buses are back on the road. Understanding school bus laws can help keep everyone safe, and since it’s National School Bus Safety Week, we’ve created a quick and simple guide for drivers. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Watch for Flashing Lights
In every state across the country, you must adhere to the rules when you see a school bus with flashing lights. Flashing yellow lights indicate that the bus is slowing down and preparing to stop. When you see this happening, you should prepare to slow down and stop as well.
When the lights turn red and the stop arm extends, it means the bus has stopped and children are loading or unloading. If you're behind a school bus with flashing lights, you may not pass. Once you stop your vehicle, you must remain stopped until the arm retracts, the lights go off, and the bus starts moving again.
2. Know When to Stop
Understanding when to stop for a school bus can sometimes be confusing, particularly because the rules vary by state. In almost all states, if you are on a non-divided road you must stop when you see a bus with red flashing lights, regardless of whether you are behind or approaching the bus.
However, there are some exceptions. For example, in Washington State, you may pass a stopped bus if you are in the opposing lane on a roadway that has three or more lanes. The same is true in Ohio, for roads with four or more lanes.
On a divided highway, in most states, you do not have to stop if you are in an opposing lane. However, this does not apply in New York State, Mississippi, or West Virginia. In Arkansas, you must stop on a divided highway if the divider is less than 20 feet wide.
3. Pay Attention to Your Surroundings
One of the most important back-to-school safety tips is to pay attention to what’s going on around you. Not only do you need to watch out for big yellow buses and flashing lights, but also keep an eye out for children who are on their way to school. Use extra caution when driving in neighborhoods, approaching crosswalks, and backing out of your parking space or driveway.
While it’s always important to avoid texting, talking on the phone, and other forms of distracted driving, it’s even more critical when there’s extra school traffic and pedestrians.
4. Give Yourself Extra Time
The start of the school year means more traffic and longer commute times. Make sure you leave the house 10 to 15 minutes earlier than you usually do, so you can get to work or school safely and on time.
Also, plan to get up earlier so you can enjoy your coffee and breakfast at home, instead of trying to eat and drink while you’re behind the wheel. It only takes a second for things to go wrong, and if you’re distracted or in a rush, you’re more likely to inadvertently create a dangerous situation.
5. Be Aware of School Bus Limitations
When driving behind large vehicles like school buses, it’s important to remember that they have some limitations. For example, these vehicles travel slower and take longer to stop. Keep in mind that you may need to hit the brakes to leave a safe distance between you and the back of the bus. Also remember that school buses are required to stop at railroad crossings, so if you’re driving behind a bus, be prepared to stop as well.
Stay Safe This School Season
The increased traffic during the school year can make driving a bit more stressful, but when you keep your defensive driving skills sharp, you’ll have nothing to worry about. Taking an online driver’s ed course at DriversEd.com is the perfect way to keep traffic laws fresh in your mind — and it can also earn you an insurance discount. Check it out today!