Drive Safely Around School Buses (and Keep Your Kids Safe on Buses, Too)

With schools starting up soon, we’ll be sharing the roads with school buses again. Buses are some of the safest vehicles on the road. In fact, if your child is traveling to school by bus, they’re approximately 70 times more likely to get there safely than they would in your own car.

But even so, lives are still lost in school bus crashes every year due to careless motorists.

Share the Road with Buses

1. Stop Arm Laws on Undivided Highways. Every state has “stop arm laws” that help keep school buses safe on undivided highways (those without a barrier or dividing section between the two sides of the highway).

School bus drivers are required to flash yellow lights as they prepare to slow down to let students on or off the bus. As they come to a full stop, bus drivers must flash red lights and extend a stop arm (a stop sign on a mechanical “arm” that sticks out to the side of the bus). This stop arm is visible to both sides of traffic and alerts all drivers to stop while children enter and exit the bus.

One exception in Utah is if a school bus extends their stop arm on an undivided road with five or more lanes and a center turn lane. In this case, only drivers approaching from the rear must stop. Drivers approaching from the front of the bus do not have to stop.

2. Stop Arm Laws on Divided Highways. For divided highways, if you are driving behind a bus and the stop arm extends, the rules are the same nationwide: you must stop until the stop arm lifts. If you are approaching a bus in the opposite direction, rules vary from state to state.

Here in Utah, if you are on a road with 3+ lanes with a median or physical barrier, you must stop if you are approaching from the rear of the bus, but if you are approaching from the front of the bus, you do not need to stop.

In 2020, a bill was passed in Utah raising the penalty from $100 to $250 for passing a school bus with flashing lights. The bill also required offenders to perform community service.

This bill was advanced in response to studies showing that hundreds of people were disregarding school bus safety arms throughout the state each day. Some were impatient drivers whizzing around buses from behind and passing them on the right to save a few minutes. (Some bus drivers reported having to pull kids back from exiting and shut the doors to keep them safe from cars disregarding the stop arm.) Others were distracted motorists who didn’t even register that the stop arm was out.

Teach Kids Bus Safety

While stricter Utah laws aim to decrease unsafe driving around school buses, risks remain. If you have a child who rides a school bus, it’s important to prepare them to do their part to stay as safe as possible.

  • Wait to enter and exit. In a perfect world, motorists would slow down as soon as they see a school bus’s flashing yellow lights, in accordance with relevant laws. But as we’ve established, not all drivers take this seriously. In fact, some may speed up, hoping to pass the bus before its stop arm comes out. For this reason, it’s imperative for kids to be extra vigilant and wait until the bus comes to a complete stop, the stop arm is extended, and the bus driver instructs the kids to either get on board or exit the bus.
  • Stay seated, face forward. Buses don’t require seat belts because they have a sophisticated safety restraint system that relies on “compartmentalization.” The compartments are formed by closely spaced seats. If a child is forced forward, the seat in front of them will absorb the impact. To reap the full benefits of these safety features, kids need to stay in their seats and face forward.
  • Get to the bus stop early. Get your child in the habit of arriving at least 5 minutes early to catch the bus. When they’re rushing out the door with just minutes until the bus arrives, they’re far less likely to keep safety as a priority.
  • Look before crossing. If your child needs to cross in front of the bus after exiting, the bus driver should leave the stop arm in place until your child has made it to safety, but sadly, there’s no guarantee that drivers will stop. Since drivers can be both careless and cavalier around school buses, play it safe by teaching your child to look both ways before they cross the street to ensure that there are no vehicles coming their way.

When School Bus Injury Accidents Occur

Obeying the rules of the road can go a long way in preventing school bus accidents, but when they occur, it’s important to get help for the next steps. If you or your child is hurt in an accident involving a school bus, contact our Salt Lake City personal injury attorneys. We can help you get the medical help that you need and recover financial damages for medical bills, pain and suffering, and more.