When Should You Stop For a School Bus?
The short answer: Whenever it's stopped. But learn your state laws on the details
Kids often start a new school year by reviewing what they learned in previous years. Along those lines, it wouldn’t hurt if motorists took a refresher course on school bus safety. According to the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Information Services, cars and other vehicles drive – sometimes very quickly – past stopped school buses more than 70,000 times a day.
You can see just how potentially tragic passing a school bus could be in this video from April 2015, when a speeding SUV missed plowing into three small kids by mere inches as the children walked toward a waiting school bus.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that between 2007 to 2016, 1,282 people of all ages were killed in school-transportation-related crashes—an average of 128 fatalities per year.
If you’re often behind the wheel at the same time school buses are making the rounds – typically between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. and 3 p.m and 4 p.m. – it’s vital to know how to share the road safely.
Learn the rules of the road
Laws regarding school buses and student transportation vary from state to state. Most state and local governments take cues from the NHTSA, however, so there’s a fair amount of consistency across the nation, even though specifics do vary.
For example, the NHTSA guidelines recommend school buses be painted that familiar yellow-orange – “National School Bus Glossy Yellow” – (which was adopted as the preferred school bus color back in 1939, but the color back then was called “National School Bus Chrome”). School buses have other uniform features, such as flashing red lights, cross-view mirrors and stop-sign arms so that drivers from across the nation will recognize a school bus for what it is.
Here’s another thing drivers can count on no matter where they are: Passing a school bus with its red lights flashing and stop-arm extended, that is stopped to load or unload students, is illegal. A motorist who does this is likely to be in some pretty serious trouble. In New Jersey, for example, a driver who passes a stopped school bus can wind up with as many as five points on his or her driver’s license, five points on their car insurance policy, a fine of at least $100 and maybe even jail time.
But when it comes to specifics like how far away from a school bus you need to stop or if you need to stop when approaching a school bus if there's a median between your car and the bus, the rules vary. The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services sums up the differences between the state laws here. But because laws are always subject to change, the organization advises checking with your state Department of Motor Vehicles to make sure you know the current rules about stopping for a school bus.