I Accidentally Passed A Stopped School Bus

Having recently gone through the jarring experience of illegally passing a stopped school bus, I wanted to share some insights to help other drivers avoid making the same regrettable mistake. 

While it was certainly not intentional, failing to stop for the flashing lights and extended stop sign on a school bus loading children carries serious consequences. My hope is that this post will remind motorists of their legal obligation to stop for school buses and prevent any child from being harmed.

Understanding the Importance of Stopped School Bus Laws

All 50 states have laws requiring vehicles to come to a complete stop when approaching a school bus with its red lights flashing and stop sign extended. This applies to both lanes of traffic and protects children as they are getting on and off the bus. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an average of 130 fatalities occur annually due to school bus related crashes. Even when no one is injured, illegally passing a stopped school bus puts lives at risk.

As a motorist, it is critical to understand that when you see a school bus stopped with its warning lights on, you are legally required to come to a full stop at least 20 feet away. You must remain stopped until the flashing lights are turned off and the stop sign has been retracted. Violating this law can incur hefty fines, points on your license, and even possible license suspension. Simply being in a hurry or distracted is never an excuse.

The Origins of School Bus Laws

Laws requiring vehicles to stop for school buses date back to the 1930s-1950s when school buses first came into widespread use. Prior to this time, students often had to walk miles to school or relied on public transportation. Early dedicated school buses lacked the distinctive yellow coloring, flashing lights, and stop signs that help identify them today.

As school bus adoption grew, accidents involving students being hit while boarding buses became more common. Distraught parents began advocating for laws and mandates to better protect children. In 1939, the very first law requiring motorists to stop for school buses loading children took effect in the state of Kentucky. Other states gradually followed suit, enacting their own versions of this life-saving legislation.

Now every state has comprehensive laws on the books governing how to safely share the road with school buses. While the specifics vary, they universally require vehicles to halt when buses are stopped with lights flashing to allow students on and off. These laws have prevented countless avoidable tragedies over the decades. All drivers share responsibility for following them to protect children.

Why School Buses Require Special Treatment

School buses merit extra caution from motorists because of their precious cargo – our children. Small bodies are much harder for drivers to see around bulkier buses. And children, with their smaller size, limited peripheral vision, and immature judgment, are less able than adults to safely navigate traffic. They require more time to cross a road and are less capable of gauging vehicle speeds and distances.

That’s why it’s incumbent on drivers to take every possible precaution around school buses. We must allow ample space for children to embark and disembark, and stop to permit them to cross safely. Although we might be in a hurry, the few seconds this requires is nothing compared to a child’s wellbeing. By exercising patience and care around buses, we demonstrate our priorities.

School Bus Safety Statistics and Facts

  • Approximately 480,000 public school buses transport over 26 million K-12 children daily in the US.
  • On average, there are over 120 fatalities related to school transportation per year.
  • From 2006 to 2015, 301 school-age children died in school bus crashes.
  • In 2017 alone, 116 people died in school transportation-related crashes. Another 298 suffered injuries.
  • Illegally passing a stopped school bus is a factor in many of these accidents.
  • Multibox camera systems on buses help capture illegal passing violations, but are not yet universally installed.
  • School buses make up a very small percentage of total vehicles on the road, yet account for a disproportionate share of pedestrian fatalities.
  • Over a 10 year period, nearly two-thirds of school transportation fatalities were pedestrians, rather than vehicle occupants.
  • The most dangerous time is when children are boarding or leaving the bus, necessitating vehicles to stop.
  • Over 20% of children killed in bus loading/unloading zones were hit by the bus itself, not passing vehicles.

These sobering statistics demonstrate that while school buses generally have a good safety record, vulnerabilities remain – especially during student loading and unloading. By remaining vigilant and following school bus passing laws, drivers can significantly reduce preventable tragedies.

School Bus Safety Organizations

Many governmental and non-profit organizations advocate for school bus safety and provide driver education:

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) creates policies and guidelines to improve school bus safety. It maintains data on related crashes and fatalities.
  • State Departments of Transportation and Motor Vehicles oversee school bus regulations, inspections, and licensing requirements in their jurisdictions.
  • School Transportation Associations like the National Association for Pupil Transportation promote best practices and training for school bus operators.
  • Advocacy Groups like the National Coalition for School Bus Safety lobby to enhance child safety regulations and share safety information.
  • First Responder Associations offer training for emergency personnel covering school bus accidents and evacuations.

These and other groups provide excellent school bus safety resources. They advocate for ever-safer vehicles, equipment, operating procedures, and driving practices.

What To Do If You Pass a Stopped School Bus

If you realize you have illegally passed a stopped school bus, here are some tips on what to do next:

  • Safely pull over and stop your vehicle. Turn on your hazard lights.
  • If it is possible to safely turn around, go back to check if any children were crossing the street or endangered.
  • If children are present, wait until they have fully crossed and are secure. Report the incident to the bus driver.
  • Be prepared to show your license and registration to the bus driver or any law enforcement that stops you.
  • Cooperate politely if you do receive a citation for the violation. Resist arguing with officers.
  • Later, contact your DMV about next steps, fines, court dates, points on license, etc.

Simply driving away after an illegal pass does not absolve you of responsibility. It is important to acknowledge the mistake and take actions to prevent harm to children. While tempting to flee, remaining at the scene is vital for assessing and addressing any damages caused.

Related Post: What Do Police See When They Run Your Plates?

Dealing with Law Enforcement at the Scene

If law enforcement responds, be honest and admit your mistake. Produce your license and registration when requested. Answer the officer’s questions directly without argument. Avoid excuses – you are still responsible. If you feel the citation is undeserved, fight it later in court, not roadside.

Above all, remain calm, respectful and compliant, even if the officer seems abrupt. Any resistance could escalate the situation unnecessarily. Getting arrested and needing bail will only compound the consequences. Your best recourse is to cooperate fully at the scene, while defending yourself later during the legal process.

Making Things Right with the School Bus Company

The school bus company will also want to address your illegal pass and ensure their students’ wellbeing. Expect the driver to report your license plate and provide a statement. Call the bus company yourself to check on any children and take responsibility. See if there is anything you can do to make amends and prevent it from happening again.

Financial restitution may even be expected if a child was injured or property damaged. Though painful, covering these costs is appropriate. See it as an investment to redeem yourself and reinforce the severe consequences of your actions.

Why Is It Important To Stop For a Stopped School Bus?

Stopping for a school bus is vitally important for preventing accidents and injuries to children getting on and off the bus. It also teaches children proper road safety habits they can apply when crossing streets. And of course, not stopping is against the law and can incur substantial fines and penalties. The few seconds required to stop pale in comparison to the devastating consequences otherwise.

Legal Requirements

Beyond protecting children, stopping for a school bus is mandatory by law in all 50 states. Just like with speed limits, seat belts, and crosswalks, failure to obey school bus stopping rules is a citable offense. As drivers, we do not have discretion about which traffic laws to follow. Violations have legal and financial consequences.

Modeling Safe Behavior

Moreover, stopping reinforces safe habits and sets a positive example. Children observe the traffic rules that adults follow and apply them when crossing roads themselves. Failing to stop undermines lessons about looking both ways and waiting for vehicles to halt. It normalizes dangerous behaviors that put lives in jeopardy.

As the more experienced road users, drivers bear responsibility for exemplifying law-abiding, protective conduct around children. It teaches them to make safety a priority now and later when driving themselves.

What Are the Consequences of Passing a Stopped School Bus?

What Are the Consequences of Passing a Stopped School Bus?

The penalties for illegally passing a stopped school bus can be quite severe. At minimum, you will face fines from $250 to $1,000 for a first offense. However, the fine amounts can be much higher depending on your state. For instance, fines in New York can reach $1,000-2,000 while in Texas they max out at $5,000.

Beyond fines, your driver’s license will be dinged with 2-5 points as a result of the moving violation. This can lead to much higher car insurance rates going forward. If enough points accumulate, your license can be suspended entirely. And keep in mind that in cases where a child is injured or dies due to your actions, you may face criminal charges as well.

Simply put, failing to stop for a school bus is not worth the devastating legal and financial consequences. A moment of caution can spare much hardship down the road.

License Points and Suspension

Most states will slap your license with 2-5 points for an illegal school bus pass. These points remain on your record for 2-5 years, raising insurance premiums. Accumulate enough, and your license could be suspended for 3-6 months or longer. This disrupts work and daily life. Getting your license reinstated can be burdensome as well. Points teach an expensive lesson.

Insurance Rate Impacts

Expect your auto insurance costs to rise significantly after an illegal pass ticket. Rates are based on risk profiles. Passing a school bus shows poor judgment and disregard for laws. Your insurance company will deem you high risk and hike premiums 30-60% on average. Some may even drop you. Shop policies carefully after a violation.

Young Drivers Face Stiffer Consequences

Teen drivers who illegally pass a school bus generally face tougher penalties. Many states impose license suspensions after just one offense. Fines and insurance increases are harsher too. Some states even delay full licensing. Undoing these consequences requires attending traffic school and retaking licensing exams. Teens need extra motivation to drive safely around school buses.

Criminal Charges

In the most egregious cases when a pedestrian is severely injured or dies, criminal charges like reckless driving or manslaughter may result. These bring additional steep fines, license suspension, possible jail time, and a criminal record. Small mistakes can spiral into life-changing consequences. Exercising abundant caution around children prevents such outcomes.

Outcomes Vary by State

School bus violation penalties differ across states. Become familiar with the laws in your state, as fines range from $100 to $5,000. Some states restrict license reinstatement until all fines are paid. Others add mandatory suspension periods.Community service, probation, and traffic school may supplement fines as well. Know your state’s particular penalties.

How Can I Avoid Passing a School Bus in the Future?

To ensure you never illegally pass a stopped school bus again, here are some safe driving tips:

  • Maintain heightened alertness in school zones and residential neighborhoods where bus stops are more common.
  • Actively watch for flashing yellow and red lights on buses, indicating they are preparing to stop or already stopped.
  • Notice stop signs extending from buses and prepare to come to a complete stop yourself.
  • Slow your vehicle well in advance so you can stop at least 20 feet away from a bus.
  • Only proceed once all lights have stopped flashing and the bus begins moving again.
  • Never attempt to pass from behind or from oncoming lanes.
  • Allow extra distance between your vehicle and buses to improve reaction times.
  • Eliminate all distractions in your car like cell phones when driving near buses.
  • Teach children to wait for the bus driver’s hand signal before crossing the street.

Scan Surroundings

Constantly scan for stopped buses so you aren’t caught off guard. Look ahead, to the sides, and check mirrors frequently for flashing lights. Expect buses around schools, in neighborhoods, and on rural roads. Assume they could stop at any time. Spotting them early gives you ample time to stop.

Remove Distractions

Eliminate every possible distraction when driving near school buses. No talking on your phone, eating, messing with the radio, or chatting with passengers. Keep your eyes fixed on the road and hands on the wheel. Even a split second distraction could cause a tragedy. Your first responsibility is watching for children.

Adjust Speed

Travel at or below the speed limit when in zones with school buses so you can respond appropriately. Higher speeds reduce reaction times. Slowing down provides safety margins to brake gradually when a bus stops. Avoid sudden, jerky stopping by driving at reasonable speeds through bus areas.

Watch for Children

Be especially vigilant scanning for children near stopped school buses. Watch for them on sidewalks, medians, curbs and along the roadside. Young children are less able to gauge traffic dangers and may try to cross at the wrong time. Drive anticipating that kids may suddenly appear and require you to stop.

Plan Your Route

When possible, choose routes that avoid school zones and neighborhoods during times when school buses are active. Although this precaution is not always feasible, it further reduces risks if your schedule allows flexibility.

Tips to Help Avoid Passing a Stopped School Bus

  • Scan ahead for school bus stops on your route and be ready.
  • Come to a complete stop, not a rolling stop.
  • If motorists behind you get impatient, let them pass when safe.
  • Watch for children along the side of the road who may try to cross.
  • Never assume it is safe to proceed until given the signal.

Allow a Safety Cushion

Maintain extra distance between your vehicle and any school bus. This builds in more time to react if it brakes or stops suddenly. Tight following distances are especially dangerous around buses. Keep well back so you can halt in time.

Take Intersections Slowly

Use maximum caution when approaching intersections with stopped school buses. Children may cross the street to reach their bus, or after disembarking. Inch forward slowly while scanning all directions for kids. Sound your horn and be prepared to stop unexpectedly.

Wait for the Signal

After a school bus stops, only proceed once given the clear signal – usually flashing lights turned off and stop sign retracted. Never move, even if no children are visible. Wait for the bus driver’s express indication that it’s safe. Don’t trust your own judgment.

Stop Yourself First

If vehicles behind you fail to stop and begin illegally passing around your stopped car, resist the urge to follow them. Set a positive example by remaining stopped until the bus clears the lane. Prioritize children over impatience from other drivers.

Summary

My experience accidentally passing a stopped school bus was distressing, but also served as a wake-up call to be a more aware and responsible driver. School bus safety laws exist for good reason – to protect our most vulnerable passengers. Going forward, I pledge to drive with greater care around buses and give them an extra wide berth.

I urge all motorists to learn from my mistake and refresh yourselves on proper procedures for sharing the road with school buses. Let’s make safety the top priority to avoid any preventable harmful outcomes. With heightened attentiveness and caution from all drivers, we can keep kids secure.

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