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School Bus Safety Guide: Common Safety Rules and Stop-Arm Laws

Reading Time: 5 minutes

According to the latest National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, children are 70 times more likely to get to school safely if they ride a school bus instead of a car. This comes as no surprise as state driving laws (and the vehicles themselves) are tailored to make school buses the safer transportation option for students.

School Bus Safety Facts: Why is a School Bus Yellow?

The school bus’ signature bright yellow has been standard since 1939. The color was chosen over red because it is 1.24 times easier to spot from the peripheral field. The combination of black and yellow paint is also more visible for drivers to see in the darkness of the early morning. 

Other safety features of a school bus include flashing red lights, cross-view mirrors, and stop-sign arms.

The interiors of a school bus are designed to meet high crush standards. Despite not having vehicle restraints for passengers, rollover protection and closely spaced seating help absorb impact energy and prevent passenger injury during a road accident. 

All states require yearly inspections for school buses and regular training for bus drivers.

The school bus’ signature yellow has been standard since 1939 because it’s 1.24 times easier to notice from the peripheral field.

Why We Need School Bus Safety Rules

Building safe and crashworthy buses is only half the battle in terms of making transportation safe for students. The other half lies in building awareness about safe driving practices for drivers of other vehicles that are on the same roads as these buses.

Sadly, a total of 71 students and 55 school bus drivers have died in a bus-related accident between 2008 and 2017. In 2017 alone, recorded injuries from these crashes involved 3,000 school bus passengers, 1,000 school bus drivers, and 7,000 occupants of another vehicle. Looking at these numbers, it is clear that there is still a lot that needs to be done to completely prevent school bus-related accidents.

School buses are safer than any other mode of surface transportation because they are heavily protected by the law. Statistics clearly show, however, that there’s still a need to continue campaigning for drivers to strictly abide by these road rules to ensure the safety of children going to and from school. The following is a quick guide to everything you need to know about safe driving around school buses.

What is a Stop-Arm Violation?

All 50 states have laws that make it illegal to pass a school bus that has the stop-arm extended with the red lights flashing. These laws are meant to protect the safety of students who are embarking or disembarking from a stopped school bus.

Failing to stop for school buses is considered a “stop-arm violation,” which carries different penalties depending on which state you live in. Some states will require you to pay a hefty fine, while others will assign you several points that will count towards license suspension.

It’s illegal to pass a school bus that has the stop-arm extended and flashing red lights in all 50 states.

When Should You Stop for School Buses?

While the specifics of laws prohibiting passing school buses may vary from state to state, there are common safety rules that apply across the country. These are the following:

1. Two-Lane Roads

If a school bus stops in a two-lane road, all vehicles driving behind the bus and all vehicles driving in the opposite direction must come to a full stop. You may only continue driving after the bus has retracted the stop-arm and turned off the red flashing lights.

2. Multi-Lane Undivided Highways

If a school bus stops to load or unload students in an undivided highway with paved access to both directions, all traffic must stop. This includes the vehicles driving behind the bus and the vehicles driving in the opposite direction.

3. Divided Highways

If a school bus stops at a divided highway, all vehicles behind it must come to a full stop. Vehicles driving on the opposite side of the road may proceed with caution because there is little risk of a child crossing the unpaved space or raised barrier dividing the road. 

State laws may vary in defining what constitutes a divided highway.

Commonly Asked Questions About Stop-Arm Violations

The risk of injury resulting from a crash caused by a stop-arm violation is very high. School bus drivers have been complaining for years about motorists who are either ignorant of the law or simply refuse to follow it. 

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about stop-arm violations:

1. Can I pass the school bus if there are no kids crossing the road?

No. It is illegal to pass a school bus that is loading or unloading children, even if there aren’t any students crossing the road.

Remember: It is illegal to pass a school bus that is loading or unloading children, even if there aren’t any students crossing the road.

2. Can I pull into the left lane or onto a shoulder to go around the bus?

No. All lanes driving in the same direction as the school bus must come to a full stop when the bus activates all stop signals.

3. I didn’t see the school bus from afar and I can’t stop abruptly. Should I keep driving?

No. School buses are equipped with yellow lights that illuminate when they’re about to make a stop. Driving within the speed limit should allow you to see these lights and give you enough time to slow down.

4. The school bus still has the stop-arm out, but the traffic light turned green, is it okay to pass it?

No. The stop arm and red flashing lights must be followed by all vehicles, even if the traffic light has turned green.

School Bus Safety for Drivers: Additional Tips

Aside from following stop-arm signals, you must also make it a point to drive extra carefully on roads leading to a bus stop and be sure to watch out for any children walking or riding their bikes on their way to the stop. Some kids may be in a hurry and suddenly cross the street without looking at oncoming traffic. Also, remember to slow down and observe traffic laws while driving in neighborhoods with school zones.

Finally—and this should go without saying—always be alert when you’re behind the wheel, particularly when you’re on your way to work. You’re likely to encounter a school bus on the road during the early morning rush, and drowsy driving accidents tend to happen during this time.

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