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Obviously, we all want kids to get to and from school safely. So it makes sense that if you are driving behind a school bus when it flashes its yellow lights, stops, and opens its door–you are not allowed to pass it. And in 48 states, traffic laws dictate that you must look out for that yellow bus and stop, even if you are in the opposite lane. The only states with an exception are Washington and Ohio. In these states, you can drive past a school bus stopped on the opposite side of a multi-lane road. Read on for the details.

It is against every state’s traffic laws to pull out and pass a stopped school bus

Yellow school bus parked on a snowy street to pick up students, traffic laws "Stop when red light flashing" painted on its rear door.
Students boarding school bus | Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

When a school bus is cruising down the road, you can pass it like any other vehicle. But when the driver flashes their strobing amber lights to signal an imminent stop, it becomes illegal to pass it in most states.

When a school bus driver comes to a complete stop and opens their passenger door, two things happen. Red lights on the back of the yellow bus will begin to flash, and a red “STOP” sign will fold out from the side of the bus. At this point, if you are parked behind the bus it is illegal to pull out and pass it–according to every state’s traffic laws.

In addition, if you are in the opposite lane and see an oncoming school bus stop and its red lights come on, you must stop where you are. In almost every state, it is illegal to drive past a school bus with its door open–even if you are in the opposite lane.

This is because students getting off the bus may be on their way to a house on either side of the road. It is important that all traffic stop so they can cross the road. So far, this probably all sounds familiar to you. But you might not have known that Washington State and Ohio have an exception.

It is sometimes legal to drive past a stopped school bus in the opposite lane

A group of students walk towards a school bus parked on a city street.
Students boarding school bus | Barry Williams for NY Daily News via Getty Images

The only states with an exception to these “stop in the opposite lane” traffic laws are Ohio and Washington State. In Ohio, you must be on a road with four lanes or more. In Washington State, the rule is three lanes.

Why would these states have an exception for multi-lane roadways? On such a large street, the bus driver won’t assume all traffic will stop for the bus, so they make a u-turn and drop the students off on their own side of the street.

What about a school bus on the other side of a divided roadway?

Mother watched her child board a school bus on a suburban street.
Student boarding school bus | Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday RM via Getty Images

If you are on a multiple-lane road with something dividing the traffic flowing in opposite directions–be it a concrete barrier or grassy-covered median–you are on a divided highway.

If you are traveling on a divided road in most states and see a school bus stop on the other side of the road to let students out, you don’t need to stop. Most states assume that the bus driver will not expect students to cross a divided road to get home but will instead plan the route to drop them on the side where they live. But in a few states, traffic laws say you must stop for school buses stopped in the opposite lane–even if you are on a divided highway.

In West Virginia, Mississippi, and New York State, you must stop when you see a school bus parked with its red lights on, on the opposite side of a divided road. In Arkansas, you must stop if the divider between the lanes is under 20 feet wide.

Next, find out why there are chains hanging under some school buses, or watch a school bus driver save a student from a passing car in the video below:

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