Simple ways to put safety first around school buses

Aug 8, 2017 | By: Kristin Wolfrum

It’s that time of year again for sharpened pencils, blank notebooks, new bookbags and meet the teacher nights. Tomorrow is the first day of school of the 2017-2018 school year for the Manatee County public schools, and Monday, school begins for Sarasota County kids. Consequently, there will be more school buses on the roads.

My daughter – newly seven years old and with a freshly lost first(!) tooth – is entering second grade this year in Palmetto. She will be one of thousands of area children on those buses in the morning. It is critical to know and follow the laws pertaining to school buses to keep kids like her safe on their way to and from school.

The buses are big, bright and hard to miss, yet the American School Bus Council reports that an estimated 10 million drivers illegally pass school buses each year. Remember: If the red lights are flashing and the STOP arm is out, you must stop. Just because you don’t see the children doesn’t mean you can pass the bus.

School bus laws and punishments

In Florida, there are stiff penalties if you violate the school bus safety laws. Although passing on either side of the bus is unsafe and illegal, the ramifications are higher if passing on the right side because this is the side that the children enter and exit the bus. Violators of the laws are required to attend and complete a basic driver improvement course. In addition, according to I Drive Safely, fines and potential suspensions are steep:

  • If passing the bus on the right-hand side: You will pay a minimum fine of $265 for your first offense. A second offense of this nature within five years carries an additional $265 fine, as well as the suspension of your license for 180 days to one year and a mandatory court hearing.
  • If passing the bus on the left-hand side: Your first offense will cost you $165. A second offense will add another $165 to that total, along with license suspension of 90 days to 6 months.

STOP arm cameras are in use by many school districts in the United States. The cameras have been effective in enforcing – and therefore reducing – the illegal passage of school buses. The National Coalition for Safer Roads cites a 15 percent decrease in violations in the 2013-2014 school year per school bus stop arm camera on routes where the safety cameras were installed.

The National Congress on School Transportation advises that motorists keep a 10-foot radius between themselves and all sides of the school bus. When the STOP arm is out and red lights are flashing, motorists should maintain a 25-foot distance from the school bus. In general, use extreme caution when traveling near a school bus and when the flashing yellow lights go on.

Safety tips

Here are some tips – and a helpful graphic – from the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles website:

  • Be alert and watch for children walking or on bicycles, especially near schools, bus stops, school buses and in school parking lots.
  • Pay extra attention to lower speed limits in school zones.
  • Watch for and obey signals from school crossing guards.
  • Only drive or park in authorized areas to drop off or pick up children at school.
  • Motorists are required to stop when approaching a school bus that is stopped with its red lights flashing and STOP arms extended. See the different situations in this diagram:

If a child, driver, or passerby is injured in a school bus accident, the injured victims might have the right to pursue a personal injury lawsuit. Making the decision to file a personal injury lawsuit is, almost without exception, a very difficult and highly personal choice. At Luhrsen Goldberg, our goal is to use our extensive legal experience to make things easier for you, whether it’s evaluating your case, negotiating a settlement or pursuing litigation. Contact us for a free consultation.