Passing a stopped school bus is a severe violation of law in many areas of the United States, punishable by a fine or jail time. This is because the safety of school children as they board and get off the bus is of the utmost importance. Most of us see this sight regularly: a school bus stopped with its stop arm extended and red lights flashing. The bus gives a clear reminder to stop, but what happens if you are not paying attention and pass a stationary school bus?
I often hear drivers say: “I accidentally passed a stopped school bus.” Sometimes these people know they have broken traffic laws regarding this situation, and in many cases, these drivers don’t. Whether you pass a stationary school bus knowing that you are violating the law or not, the reality is that you are putting the safety of school children at risk. The law itself is an indication of the need for increased public awareness.
So before you hit the road again, here’s an in-depth guide about the laws of various states and the potential consequences of passing a stopped school bus. Read this article to the end because we’ll help you keep within the law to safeguard against hefty fines. Please note that this article does not purport to be legal advice in any way.
How Did School Bus Laws Come About?
The laws regarding stopping stationary school buses may seem absurd today, but there are solid reasons authorities introduced these statutes.
The 1935 Rockville Tragedy is a dark chapter in our history linked to the beginning of school bus rules. A collision between a train and a school bus in the tranquil Indiana town of Greenfield sent shockwaves across the country. A startling 14 children died in the aftermath, their dreams instantly ruined. Communities, policymakers, and campaigners were all driven by the occurrence to create a more secure future.
The tragedy in Greenfield catalyzed reform as the country united to defend its most valuable asset: the children. The event revealed the inconsistency in traffic laws governing school buses, which sparked a passionate movement for legislation establishing uniform safety procedures nationwide.
School Bus Laws
Most states have laws specifying how vehicles must interact with school buses. It’s especially vital to have clear laws to ensure the safety of children being transported by buses since they stop so frequently. Also, children are not always careful and may run across the road without regard to traffic when getting on or off the bus.
Because of the need to protect children, it’s essential to know and follow the rules concerning school buses.
What Are The Consequences Of Passing A Stopped School Bus?
Passing a stopped school bus has different legal consequences depending on your location. If you accidentally pass a stopped school bus, you may face traffic citations, fines, and points on your driving record. Many states keep track of your driving history by adding points to your license if you receive a citation for a moving violation. To avoid surprises, know your local traffic laws and their potential consequences.
In Pennsylvania, violating the school bus-stopping law can suspend your driving license for 60 days. In Illinois, a first-time offense can lead to a three-month driving license suspension. Additionally, a second offense within five years will lead to a one-year license suspension.
Passing a stopped school bus can lead to death or injury, and it happens many times. Based on calculations by the National Safety Council (NSC) using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), school bus accidents killed 108 people and injured 9,700 people in 2021.
What Are The Laws And Regulations Regarding Passing A Stopped School Bus?
Almost all states have specific laws regarding the unlawful passing of a stopped school bus. Violating these laws may result in substantial fines or even the suspension of your driving license. Now, let’s delve into the specific regulations across a few states.
Colorado has specific laws addressing stopping school buses:
- Drivers must stop a minimum of 20 feet from any stationary school bus.
- Drivers cannot resume motion until the buses’ lights are off.
Violations incur fines of $150-$300 and jail time of 10-90 days. A second offense within five years may lead to a $300-$1,000 fine, ten days to one year in jail, and 6 points added to your driving record.
Minnesota state laws regarding stopping stationary school buses stipulate that:
- Drivers must stop at least 20 feet from a school bus with red lights on or extended stop arm. This applies to people driving on both sides if the road is undivided.
- Drivers do not need to stop for a school bus if they are on the opposite side of a divided highway.
Any driver who fails to stop for a school bus is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and fines up to $1,000.
New Mexico has a harsh jail sentence for violating its laws on stopping school buses.
- Drivers must stop at least 10 feet from a stopped school bus.
- Drivers should not proceed until the buses’ signals are disabled or the school bus proceeds. Drivers can pass when signaled to by the bus driver.
Violations are considered a misdemeanor offense with a fine of up to $300 and a potential jail sentence of up to 90 days. Additionally, six points will be applied to your driving record.
Punishment for passing a school bus in Mississippi is quite severe. First off, let’s look at the rules in this state.
- Drivers must stop a minimum of 10 feet away from a stopped school bus.
- A driver may only continue once all children have crossed the street or highway and the bus proceeds, or the driver retracts the sign and turns off the lights.
First offenses incur a fine of $350 to $750 and up to one year in jail. Second offenses within five years may lead to guaranteed penalties of $750 to $1,500 and up to one year in jail.
Indiana has no special rules about passing a school bus. However, it does have harsh sentences.
Passing a school bus is an infraction punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 60 days in jail. Additionally, up to eight points will be added to your driving record.
New York has strict laws governing how cars interact with buses, including:
- Stop 20 feet away from the bus when its red lights are flashing.
- Stop for the bus even if you are going in the opposite direction on a divided highway. Most states do not require motorists to stop when traveling in this instance. But take care; this is the law in New York, and you could get a ticket or even jail time if you disobey it.
- You can only pass if the bus driver gives you the signal that you can do so.
The fine for violating school bus traffic laws is $250 to $400 for a first offense. You’ll also get an automatic five points on your license and potentially 30 days in jail.
Texas has similar laws to the other states but very high fines.
- Stop a school bus if it has extended its stop sign or flashing red lights.
- Never pass a school bus on either side actively loading or unloading pupils.
- Keep an eye out for students crossing the street to catch a bus, whether there are crosswalks or not.
If you break the school bus laws, you could face a fine of up to $1,250. The fine will not be revoked even if you take defensive driving classes.
New Jersey school bus laws mirror New York’s approach with extended stopping distance and potential jail time for violations.
- When a bus has its stop sign extended or flashing red lights on, stop at least 25 feet away from the bus.
- You do not need to stop for a school bus if you are on the other side of the road. However, while passing the bus, even though you are on the other side of the median, you can only travel at a maximum speed of 10 mph.
For the first violation of these laws, you will get a $100 fine and up to 15 days in jail or 15 days of community service. You will also have five points added to your license. For further violations, the fine may increase to $250.
Ohio’s school bus regulations differ slightly from other states regarding opposing traffic.
- Drivers from both directions must stop at least ten feet away from a stopped school bus when traveling on a road with less than four lanes. The bus can use red flashing lights alone; no stop sign extension is needed.
- If a driver is traveling on a road with at least four lanes, then only cars traveling in the same direction as the school bus must stop for the bus.
- Traffic that stops for a school bus may only start moving once the bus resumes movement or the bus driver waves and signals that the traffic may pass.
- Bus laws for divided highways are the same as those for four or more lanes.
Drivers who violate Ohio’s school bus laws may be fined $500 and have their licenses suspended. If you violate school bus laws, you will attend a court hearing.
Connecticut has strict bus laws with harsh penalties, even for first offenders.
- Motorists must stop their cars at least ten feet away from a bus flashing red lights. This applies to vehicles coming from either direction. Drivers must wait until the bus’ red flashing lights stop before proceeding.
- Drivers at intersections must not turn toward a bus if students are boarding or offboarding.
Breaking the law results in a $500-$1000 fine, a potential 30-day jail term, and adds four points to your license.
Wisconsin has a milder punishment for passing a school bus than most states. Here are the specific rules for this state:
- Drivers must stop a minimum of 20 feet from a stopped school bus.
- Drivers must only proceed once buses return to motion or signals are no longer displayed.
This state enforces a $30-$300 fine and adds four points to your driving record as punishment.
How Can I Legally Pass A Stopped School Bus?
You must stop without question when you’re on a two-lane road. On a multi-lane road with pavement across, vehicles on both sides must stop. Here’s the only exception: if there’s an unpaved area between lanes, like grass or a raised median, the side with the bus stops, while the other side can proceed.
What Safety Precautions Should I Take When Approaching a Stopped School Bus?
It’s important to be vigilant while driving, especially when entering an area where school buses may be present. Pay particular attention to flashing red lights, prolonged stop signs, and warning signs for school buses.
Be prepared for other drivers’ actions, and keep a safe distance from the school bus. Stay at least three car lengths away from a school bus when driving behind it. If you are driving on a road with a high-speed limit, increase this distance.
Drive defensively around school buses, no matter how much of a hurry you are in. Remember, continue to take care even after the bus starts moving. Children will still be in the area. So, it’s always possible that they will run into the street.
Passing a stopped school bus is a serious offense, with severe punishments in many American states. The law treats both accidental and intentional cases equally.
It is important to take care when driving around school buses and at school dismissal times. By paying attention to your surroundings, learning more, and getting legal help if needed, you can effectively handle legal consequences and help keep kids safe on the road.