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Think before you blow past that school bus.

A new school year has begun; and with it comes the hustle and bustle of busy families trying to get children to school safely and parents to work on time. There’s a reason they call it “rush hour”. But before you “sneak by” that bus right as it is getting ready to stop, you might want to consider the consequences.

New York State law requires drivers on both sides of the road to stop for school buses when the red lights are flashing, the stop sign is extended, and children are getting on or off. The New York State Association for Pupil Transportation estimates that 50,000 drivers still will illegally pass school buses every day. Given the statistics, it’s important to teach students how to safely wait for, board, and get off the bus. The Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee has developed a number of resources for parents and teachers, and recommends that children:

  • Look to the left, right and left again when crossing to the road to get on or off the bus

  • Wait for the school bus at the bus stop and stand back from the curb

  • Look to the rear of the bus before stepping off the bottom step (motorists are most likely to pass a stopped school buses on the right shoulder)

  • Take 5 giant steps straight out the bus door and out of the danger zone when getting off the bus (areas around buses where the driver can't see them)

  • Make eye contact with the driver and wait for them to signal before crossing in front of the bus

  • Never go back for anything left on the bus

  • Never bend down near or under the bus

The Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee’s Be Smart. Share the Road with School Buses website also provides helpful tips for motorists navigating bus stops. Bus drivers will turn on the flashing amber lights about 300 feet before the anticipated stop. Motorists should slow down and use caution when approaching a school bus with amber flashing lights from the front or behind. When the red flashing lights are turned on and the stop sign is extended, drivers on both sides of the road must stop until children have safely boarded the bus. These laws apply on all streets and highways including multiple lane roads and on opposite sides of divided highways.

Illegally passing a stopped school bus extremely dangerous to the children getting on or off, but it also comes at a hefty price. If an officer witnesses the infraction it could mean $250-$400 in fines, five points on your license and up to 30 days in jail for first-time offenders. Penalties for second and third offenses increase to up to $1,000 in fines and 180 days in jail.

Enforcement of these laws could become even more vigilant in the next couple of years. During the 2019 legislative session, a bill was passed allowing law enforcement to install cameras on bus “stop arms” allowing drivers to record license plates and transmit photos. Each school district will be able to determine the extent to which they install the newly legalized cameras and local municipalities will be permitted to collect fines from offenders.

It’s important to remember that these laws help to keep children in our community safe. Children are shorter and less visible to motorists. They are easily distracted and sometimes act without thinking. Exercising caution on the road and educating children on bus stop and pedestrian safety will prevent unnecessary injury and save lives. The New York State Coalition for Traffic Safety is committed to helping to educate communities on pedestrian, biker and motor vehicle safety. If you feel your community could benefit from educational programming, or is in need advocacy, contact us today.

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