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Is Passing a Stopped School Bus Illegal?

Passing a stopped school bus can violate traffic laws, but each state has different rules. These laws can tell you where and when to stop and how to pass safely.

Laws that stop you near buses can help prevent serious accidents. Schoolchildren should be safe as they walk, often unpredictably, to and from the bus. The driver of a vehicle might not see a child until it's too late.

This article explains common school bus stop laws. Check your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website for more details in the traffic code or vehicle handbook.

Common School Bus Safety Laws

Most state traffic laws require motorists to stop and wait for stopped buses. These laws apply across states year-round — not only during the school year or near school zones.

Watch for Bus Signals

Buses usually have flashing red lights and a swing-out stop sign when they pick up or drop off passengers.

When the school bus driver is ready to move again, they stop signaling and pull back the extended stop arm. They may wave traffic on in some states, even when a red light is flashing or the bus stop arm is still out.

Stopping in the Opposite Direction

Pay attention to the other side of the road. Most laws prohibit vehicles on the opposite side of a two-lane roadway from overtaking stopped school buses. Drivers also usually must stop if that road has a center turn lane.

However, this rule typically doesn't apply when driving in the opposite direction on a highway. A highway may either have a physical barrier at the median or multiple lanes of traffic. Though you would not stop in this case, you should still watch for children and crossing guards near the bus.

Passing a Bus in Motion

You can typically pass a moving bus similarly to how you would pass a regular vehicle. Watch for yellow lights, however, because they signal that the bus will stop soon. Do not take risks or break traffic laws to pass a bus, even if it is slower than the speed limit.

State Laws: When to Stop for a School Bus

State laws about stopped school buses differ in many ways. For example, they might specify a minimum distance from the bus and whether you must stop on certain road types.

Read examples of specific state laws below:

  • Washington: You don't need to stop for a school bus on a highway. This rule also applies to any public road with three or more lanes when traveling on the opposite side. Ohio law and North Carolina law are similar but for four-lane roads.
  • California: When traveling on the opposite side, you don't have to stop on a divided or multilane highway (at least two-lane roads in each direction). A driver must stop at an intersection where a school bus is stopped until its signals are no longer flashing.
  • New York: You must stop for a stopped school bus on the opposite side of a divided highway. According to statistics, many drivers fail to follow this rule.
  • Texas: Drivers must reach a complete stop when approaching a stopped school bus until the bus resumes motion, the visual signal is no longer activated, or the bus driver signals the motorist to proceed.
  • Pennsylvania: You must stop at least 10 feet from the school bus. Wait until the red flashing lights stop and the bus driver withdraws the stop sign before proceeding.

Penalties for Improperly Passing a School Bus

Law enforcement officers may pull you over and issue a ticket for breaking the state's school bus traffic laws. If you cause a bus accident, the penalties can be even steeper.

The penalty is usually a fine. For example, Florida levies a $165 fine for an illegal pass on the left-hand side of a bus. A $265 fine applies for an illegal pass on the right-hand side, where students enter and exit the bus.

Repeat offenses can have higher penalties, including losing your driver's license. In Florida, subsequent violations of a left-hand pass result in another $165 fine and a license suspension for at least 90 days. A repeat right-hand pass violation leads to another $265 fine, a minimum 180-day license suspension, and a mandatory hearing.

Legal Advice for Traffic Tickets

While state laws differ slightly, passing a stopped school bus is often illegal. Yet, there might be a reason you passed, such as the bus driver failing to signal properly.

Check your local laws or speak with a local attorney if you believe police officers unfairly cited you for a violation. A traffic ticket lawyer can explain your options and help you decide whether to contest the violation in court.

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