Here in Louisiana, the kids are back in school, and the big yellow school buses are back on the road. In fact, I passed no less than fifteen of them on my short route to pick up my own kids from school. Those school buses are carrying precious cargo, and according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, they are the safest vehicle on the road. However, there is a lot of confusion and inconsistency among motorists about when and how to stop for school buses to keep the children safe.
Let's start with a simple two lane road. Both the cars traveling behind the bus and in the opposite lane have to stop when the bus's lights start flashing and the stop sign comes out.
On a four lane road with no turn lane, the same rule applies. Cars traveling in both lanes behind the bus and in the opposite lanes must stop. You may often see a motorist in the left lane behind the bus try to pass the bus even though the stop sign is out. This is not only illegal but very dangerous for the children who may have to cross the street.
A three lane road, or in other words, two lanes with a turn lane between them, follows the same rules. Traffic on both sides must stop, even though a turn lane separates them.
But this is where it gets confusing.
On a five or more lane road where four or more lanes are separated by a designated turning lane, only traffic following behind the bus must stop. In other words, motorists traveling in the opposite direction of the bus are not required to stop if there are more than two lanes on the other side of a designated turn lane. This is confusing because in the previous example, even though there was a designated turn lane, all traffic had to stop. However, again, when there are two or more lanes on both sides of a designated turn lane, the turn lane makes it considered a divided highway.
Another example of a divided highway is when there is a physical barrier that separates the lanes of traffic -- for example, a grass median or a concrete barrier. In this situation, only traffic traveling behind and in the same direction as the bus must stop.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you are traveling behind a bus, even if not in the same lane, you must always stop, and the law actually requires you to stop at least 30 feet behind the bus. Beyond this, it depends on if the highway is considered "divided" or not.
Though it certainly is confusing and many people do not do this correctly, it is so very important that we get it right. We cannot be too safe when human lives are at risk, especially when they are children who are depending on us to keep them safe.
Thanks for tuning in, and remember -- just because it can go wrong, it doesn't have to.