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11-22-13: Tips to help drivers know when to stop for school buses
11-22-13: Tips to help drivers know when to stop for school buses
Posted on 11/22/2013

Washington state bus laws protect nearly 10,000 students who ride Puyallup School District buses daily to and from school.


Knowing when to stop and when not to stop for a school bus is critical to student and motorist safety, said Director of Transportation Cathy McDaniel.


As a general rule, a driver should not get any closer than 20 feet to a school bus that has stopped with red lights flashing. It is safe to proceed once the lights stop flashing.


Flashing red lights, a retractable red “STOP” paddle, and a crossing arm in front of the bus signal that the bus is either loading or unloading students.


The following are examples of when motorists, by law, must stop for a school bus:


Two-lane road


If a school bus comes to a stop on a two-lane road where there is one lane of traffic moving in each direction, traffic behind the bus and motorists traveling in the opposite direction must both stop.


Three-lane road


On three-lane roads, where there is one lane of traffic moving in each direction and a center turn lane, the vehicles behind the bus and those in the turn lane traveling the same direction as the bus must stop.


Vehicles traveling in the opposite direction can continue without stopping, including a vehicle in the center turn lane that is turning in front of the bus.


Four-lane road


When a roadway has four or more lanes with at least two of the lanes going in the opposite direction, only the vehicles in lanes traveling the same direction as the school bus need to stop for the red flashing school bus lights.


Two areas of the school district where people often get confused about this rule are along Sunrise Parkway and traveling up or down Meridian Street from the top to the bottom of the hill.


If a bus, for example, is stopped on Meridian Street in the right lane on the way up the hill, all cars traveling in the same direction behind it, both in the same lane as the bus and in the adjacent lane immediately next to the bus, must stop. Motorists driving down the hill in the opposite direction of the bus do not need to stop.


Tip to remember


When a driver gets confused about when to stop, McDaniel said it is easy to remember that the flashing red lights, “STOP” paddle, and crossing arm control the traffic lane that the school bus is in and the lane directly next to it.


Fines for drivers ignoring school bus red lights can be $300 or more.


Amber warning lights


Lights blinking in an alternating amber pattern help signal students and motorists that a bus is preparing to stop.


Bus drivers engage their amber lights between 100 and 300 feet from a bus stop on roads marked with 35 mph speed limits or less. They turn on the amber lights between 300 and 500 feet on roads with speed limits above 35 mph.


When they arrive at the bus stop, drivers switch from amber to red lights indicating a stop. Tammy Sutton, the school district’s driver trainer, recommends motorists slow down, proceed with caution, and be prepared to stop when they see a school bus turn on its amber lights.


See related article about the results of a one-day state and local count of school bus passing violations last May.