School Bus Rules: When You Should and Shouldn’t Stop

Even though there are safety guidelines for boarding the bus, driving near school buses comes with different rules than regular traffic. These rules help you play your part in keeping the children safe and may vary from state to state, although there are some commonalities among them. For instance, you might be required to stop your vehicle if a school bus is stopped on the side of the road. However, this depends on the situation, which is why you need to familiarize yourself with the school bus laws in your state.

General rules for driving near school buses

School bus with it's stop sign out.
School bus | Getty Images

According to The Bellingham Herald, the general rule is that drivers overtaking or meeting a school bus that’s stopped on the side of the road and has activated a visual signal shall stop before reaching it. The visual signal, in this case, is a stop sign extended out of the bus, flashing red lights, or both. This typically happens when the school bus is dropping off or picking up students.

The term “overtaking” means when cars are moving in the same direction. So whether you’re behind the bus or in the next lane, you should stop. “Meeting” as used in the school bus rules means when you’re moving in opposite directions.

After that, you only start moving when the bus has removed the visual signal by retracting the stop sign or stopping the flashing red lights. The bus driver may also indicate for you to go ahead, although even then, you must exercise due caution just in case there are still kids trying to cross the road.

There are exceptions to these school bus laws. For instance, if you’re driving on a highway with a significant barrier in the middle, only the vehicles following the bus should stop. Those in opposing traffic lanes on the other side of the barrier don’t have to stop, with a few exceptions.

Below are examples of school bus laws according to Drive-Safety in different heavily populated states where some minor differences might crop up.

Florida school bus laws

In Florida, drivers cannot pass a bus displaying the stop signal. Additionally, you must wait until the children are clear of the road and the sign is withdrawn for you to proceed. This also applies to highways where vehicles are traveling in both directions.

However, vehicles moving in the opposite direction can pass if there’s a raised barrier or an unpaved median five feet or larger. Painted lines and pavement markings do not count. That said, even with the five feet unpaved medians, cars moving in the opposite direction should exercise caution.

New York school bus rules

In New York, you stop whenever a school bus is flashing red lights. Bus drivers don’t just stop before turning the red lights on. Instead, they flash warning lights near the bus’s roof to prompt you to reduce your speed and prepare to stop.

You can proceed if the bus driver or a traffic officer gives you the OK or when the red lights stop flashing. Also, if there are still children on the side of the road, you have to drive slowly until you’re past them.

Lastly, New York is one of the few states where you must stop, even on the opposite side of a divided highway. Other states with similar rules include West Virginia, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

Texas school bus laws

Like most other states, school bus rules in Texas dictate you stop if you see the flashing red lights. After that, you only proceed if the lights stop flashing, the bus resumes motion, or the driver signals you onward. That said, school buses have the right of way over other motorists.

Additionally, you may not have to stop on a controlled access highway. This is particularly true if the bus is stopped in a loading zone since pedestrians aren’t permitted to cross.

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