School buses often operate at slower, safer speeds than other vehicles and make frequent stops, which may entice some drivers to pass them. However, all states have laws that impose special restrictions for passing school buses. These laws are designed to ensure the safety of loading and unloading children. This article outlines some of the basics of what state laws require and the penalties associated with improperly passing a school bus.
When a school bus is traveling on a roadway, you're generally permitted to pass when it's safe to do so, as it would with passing any other type of vehicle.
However, when buses stop to load or unload children, they typically either turn on flashing red lights or activate an extended stop sign that protrudes from the bus itself. These indicators are intended to signal to other drivers that bus passengers are loading or unloading and may be crossing the street nearby. When a bus is stopped for boarding, vehicles traveling behind or in oncoming lanes must stop (generally, at least 50 feet away from the bus). All cars must remain stopped until the indicators are disabled and the bus begins moving again.
Occasionally, a school bus isn't equipped with indicators, or the driver fails to activate the passenger-loading indicators. In these instances, other drivers are generally still required to stop and wait.
In certain situations—where the risk of a pedestrian accident is minimal—drivers aren't required to stop for school buses that are loading and unloading. For example, on four-lane highways that are divided by a median, opposing traffic usually doesn't need to stop for a stopped school bus. Additionally, some cities have bus loading zones that are separated from the main road. If the loading zone is separated from the highway (so that pedestrians aren't crossing), drivers typically don't need to stop for a loading or unloading school bus.
Improperly passing a school bus will typically result in fines and demerit points. In some states, a violation can also lead to license suspension and/or jail time. And, violations that involve injuries to a child or another person carry much more severe penalties.