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Rules of the Road When it Comes to School Bus Safety

Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns Wants Everyone to Know…

Motorists must stop when a school bus flashes its red lights – It’s the law

As summer winds down, children across Erie County are heading back to school and the “Yellow School Buses” once again dot our roadways. For a majority of the over 121,000 students throughout Erie County, the school day begins and ends with a trip on a school bus.  Many children will be going to school for the first time and may not be as careful when crossing the street or running to catch the bus.  Older children know the routine, but may forget in their excitement to catch up with friends. Unfortunately, each year some bus trips to school end in tragedy -- children are injured or killed in school bus incidents when motorists fail to follow the rules of the road.  Data has shown that on a single school day, an estimated 50,000 drivers throughout New York State illegally pass stopped school buses.  Although drivers are required to stop for a school bus when it is stopped to load or unload passengers, children should not rely on them to do so, a fact that parents should discuss with their children prior to the start of the school year. 

The rules of the road in New York State are specific when it comes to school buses.  Drivers need to know and obey the “flashing signal light system” that school bus drivers use to alert motorists of pending actions. Yellow flashing lights indicate that the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. That is the time to slow down and prepare to stop your vehicle.  Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate that the bus has stopped, and that children are getting on or off the bus. Motorists must stop their cars at least 20 feet away from the bus and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop sign is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving before they can start driving again.  When a school bus stops and flashes its red lights, traffic approaching from either direction must stop before reaching the bus: on a two-lane road, on multi-lane highways, or on divided highways. 

All drivers should know that the fine for passing a stopped school bus ranges from a minimum of $250 and up to $400 and/or up to 30 days in jail for the first violation. Additionally, a conviction places 5 points on your driver’s license and may result in increased insurance premiums. If convicted of three violations in three years, your license will be revoked for a minimum of six months.  It goes without saying that even one instance of passing a stopped school bus is unacceptable; it could mean the life of a child.  

Parents, it is important to talk with your child, or children, about school bus safety. Children need to know to stand at least three giant steps (6 feet) away from the curb when waiting for the bus to arrive. Children must also wait until the bus comes to a complete stop, the doors open, and the driver says it is okay before stepping onto the bus. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the greatest risk is not while riding on the school bus, but getting on or getting off. Children need to be reminded to be cautious in and around the “danger zone” of the school bus, which is the 10 feet in front, behind and on each side of the school bus.

When the new school year begins in the coming weeks, I remind motorists not to drive distracted, slow down around school zones and be alert for children approaching or exiting school buses. If we all exercise a little extra care and caution, drivers and pedestrians can co-exist and together, and we can all enjoy the upcoming school year safely.