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Is Passing a Stopped School Bus Illegal?

Passing a stopped school bus usually is a violation of traffic laws, which vary from state to state. Laws requiring motorists to stop in the vicinity of school buses are intended to prevent serious accidents involving children as they walk to and from the bus, often unpredictably. The following is a general primer on such laws, but check your state's traffic code, vehicle handbook, or department of motor vehicles guide for specifics.

See FindLaw's "Traffic Laws" section for related articles and resources.

Most state traffic laws require motorists to stop and wait for stopped school buses, which usually have blinking red rights and a swing-out stop sign, until they stop signaling and/or pull away. In some states, bus drivers may wave traffic on, even when a red light is flashing. Most laws also prohibit vehicles on the opposite side of a two-lane road from overtaking stopped school buses, which typically does not apply to divided or multiple-lane highways.

Differences in State School Bus Traffic Laws

State laws governing how motorists must respond when in the vicinity of a stopped school bus differ in a number of ways, including the required stopping distance from the bus and whether motorists on the opposite site of a divided highway must stop. Below is a sampling of some key states' laws:

  • Washington: Motorists are not required to stop for a school bus on a highway, defined as any public road, with three or more lanes when traveling on the opposite side (Ohio law is similar, but for roadways with four or more lanes).
  • California: Vehicles are not required to stop on a divided or multi-lane highway (two or more lanes in each direction) when traveling on the opposite side; a driver approaching an intersection where a school bus is stopped must stop at that intersection until its signals are no longer flashing.
  • New York: Vehicles must stop for a school bus stopped on the opposite side of a divided highway (which, according to statistics, is widely disregarded).
  • Texas: Drivers must 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: Motorists must stop at least 10 feet away from the school bus, and then wait until the red lights have stopped flashing and the swinging stop sign has been withdrawn before proceeding.

Penalties

Violators of these laws usually face fines, which escalate with successive offenses, up to the suspension of a driver's license for excessive citations.

Florida statute, for example, levies a $165 fine for a pass on the left-hand side of a bus, and a $265 fine for a pass on the right-hand side (where students enter and exit the bus). Second and subsequent violations of a left-hand pass violation result in another $165 fine and a minimum 90-day license suspension. A repeat violation of the right-hand pass rule results in another $265 fine, a minimum 180-day license suspension, and a mandatory hearing. While state laws differ slightly, passing a stopped school bus almost always is a violation of traffic law. Check your local laws or speak with a local attorney for more clarity or if you believe you were unfairly cited for a violation.

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