There are more than 471,000 school buses on the roads every day. School bus safety should be a priority for every driver. Yet, every year tragedies occur due to someone driving recklessly near a school bus or in a school zone.
Penalties for these careless drivers increased when advocates for school bus safety wrote a petition in 2018. The petition demanded that legislation create severe penalties for people who drive past a school bus with its red lights flashing. The plea resulted from several severe and fatal injury accidents involving stopped school buses in the United States within three days in 2018.
In 2019, school bus-related accidents caused 109 fatalities and 13,000 injuries nationwide.
School Bus Laws in DC, Maryland, and Virginia
Stopped School Buses
It is illegal to pass a stopped school bus loading or unloading children in all states and D.C. In addition, it is unlawful to pass a stopped school bus with its stop sign or arm extended and red lights flashing. Drivers must stop until the stop sign or arm retracts, and the bus lights stop flashing or the bus resumes motion.
The area surrounding the school bus is the most dangerous for children. For this reason, drivers in Maryland must stop 20 feet away from a stopped school bus. In DC, drivers must stop 15 feet away from a stopped school bus. If your state does not list the required stopping distance, be safe and stop 20 feet away.
Who Is Allowed to Pass a Stopped School Bus?
Drivers on the opposite side of a divided highway are not required to stop. However, if you are unsure if a divider counts as a physical barrier, it is better to stop. Also, be prepared for unexpected actions by children exiting the school bus.
Drivers face strict penalties for breaking laws related to school buses and school zone. For example, drivers who fail to stop for a stopped school bus receive citations, points on their driver’s license, and fines up to $500 or more. In Virginia, drivers who fail to stop behind a school bus may face charges for reckless driving. Violating school bus laws and causing accidents may also result in misdemeanor or felony charges.
7 Safety Tips for Parents and Children
The National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) focuses on school bus safety. NAPT has excellent safety information and tips on its website. The following are safety tips to discuss and practice with your children:
- Pack Belongings Securely
Children should pack all of their belongings securely in a backpack to decrease the chances of dropping anything. Also, never run back into the road if you drop something.
- Be Early
Help your children get to the bus stop a few minutes early, so they are never trying to run after the bus.
- Walk With a Buddy
Walk with young children to their bus stop and encourage children to walk in groups for safety and increased visibility.
- Be a Good Pedestrian
Practice safe pedestrian behavior. Instruct children to walk on the sidewalk. If there is no sidewalk, they should still try to stay out of the street. If children have to walk in the street, they should walk in a single line, facing traffic, and stay on the edge of the road.
- Cross The Street Safely
When crossing the street, stop and look left, right, and then left again before crossing. Complete the same actions when crossing driveways and alleys. Adults are heading to work when kids are heading to the bus stop. Be an example for your children by exaggerating your head turns and narrating your actions aloud, so your child mimics your behavior. Make eye contact with any motorists before crossing the street or driveway.
- Stay Visible and Stay Safe
Tell your kids to never bend down near or under the bus because the bus driver and other drivers will not be able to see them. When exiting the bus, children should quickly step out of the “danger zone” (the ten feet surrounding the bus). They should take several steps away from the bus until they see the driver and know that the driver sees them. In addition, children should never go back onto the road if they forget something.
- Cross in Front of The Bus
Children should cross the road in front of the bus when signaled to go by the driver. Parents should wait for children on the same side of the road where they exit the bus, so they do not run across the street excitedly to greet their parents.
Drivers who approach school zones should be alert and aware of:
- Reduced speed limits
The speed limits are in effect when children are present and school is in session. Typical school zone speed limits are between 15-25 mph.
- Increased traffic
Parents are frequently parked along the road or making sudden stops to drop off or pick up children. Police often direct traffic during school drop-off and pick-up.
Buses make frequent stops, and children could be loading or unloading the bus.
- Pedestrians and bicycle riders
Children will be crossing the street with or without the assistance of crossing guards. Obey crossing guards.
- Increased fines
Fines in school zones are usually higher. In addition, motorists who commit moving violations in these zones may face additional points on their driver’s license or a suspended driver’s license.
Please do not rush or drive distracted when driving in or near a school zone.
Negligent Motorists & Victims’ Rights
The law firm of Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C protects the rights of victims and families following preventable injuries. We know that negligent motorists put everyone at risk of suffering harm. Other drivers, passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians are all at risk. Adults and children injured in an accident caused by a negligent driver have the right to pursue the justice and compensation they deserve through the personal injury claim process.
Motorists who fail to stop at school buses with their red lights flashing or drive recklessly in school zones are usually held accountable by law enforcement. But, unfortunately, that does not provide victims with any meaningful recovery of their damages. Therefore, victims need to pursue civil claims and lawsuits to recover those damages, including medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Contact Us For a Free Consultation
Our team at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C has been serving DC, Maryland, and Virginia for over 50 years. We are experts in cases involving child injuries, negligent motorists, and auto accidents. Do you have questions regarding a possible case involving a school bus accident or any other preventable accident? We are here to help you. Contact us or call (202) 780-8264 for a FREE and confidential consultation.