Debbie from Aurora writes, “What’s driving you crazy? Please, please do a news report on our school buses and our Students! People drive so reckless and we transport students with no money value. I am a trainer for new bus drivers with Cherry Creek for 19 years and we have had so many close calls with drivers running our red lights and our STOP SIGN! This is so important to me and all of our drivers to keep our students SAFE!"
Let me first start by saying thank you for what you do and keeping our kids safe. Secondly, drivers who blow past a school bus when kids are getting on or off should maybe lose their license. Almost no recent video shows the danger more than one from North Carolina’s Iredell-Statesville Schools. Dash cam video from the bus shows a driver blowing past the stop arm of the school bus on the left and nearly running over two students. In that video, the driver nearly runs over two students crossing the street to get to the bus. The kids were not hurt and the driver was arrested.
Debbie, I’m sure you have plenty of similar stories from your driver’s seat. The rules for when you stop for a school bus and when you don’t depend on the type of road you are on. But even if you aren’t required by law to stop, any bus driver will tell you to make sure you look for kids anyway as they might be crossing the street.
The lights you first see come on a school bus are the yellow warning lights. They are illuminated when a school bus is about to stop and pick up or drop off kids. The yellow warning lights will stay on until the bus driver opens the door. That’s when the red stop lights and the stop arm on the side of the bus activates. That is when you as a driver should come to a full stop. You are required to stop at least 20 feet back from the bus and remain stopped until the bus driver deactivates the stop signal. You also shouldn’t turn left in front of a bus if it stops just before an intersection as kids might be running to cross the street assuming all traffic is stopped.
Those rules apply on any residential or two-lane road whether there are lane-separating lines or not. The rules are the same for a four or six-lane road with traffic traveling either direction separated only by a double yellow line. Think University Boulevard, south of Cherry Creek. The traffic on both the bus side of the double yellow line and the traffic going the opposite direction must stop. The "all vehicles must stop" rules also apply to one-way roads like Broadway or Lincoln Street.
The only time opposing traffic doesn’t have to stop for a bus on the other side of the road is when there is a division of the two directions by “a depressed, raised or painted median, or other intervening space serving as a clearly indicated dividing section or island.” Think Chambers Boulevard in Aurora with a solid, raised median or 92nd Ave. in Federal Heights with a painted turn lane median area separating the two sides of the road.
On a street like Twenty Mile Road in Parker between the Target and the Watermark Apartment complex, since there is a raised median between the northbound and southbound sides, when the bus stopped on the other side of the road from you with its red lights flashing, you don’t need to stop. However, every driver should be alert that there are children in the area and could be crossing the road.
I talked to Susan Miller, the transportation supervisor for the Colorado Department of Education School Transportation Unit, about the problem of drivers passing stopped school buses. Susan drove a school bus for 16 years in northern Michigan. She told me in her more than 40 years working in the school transportation industry, illegal passing has always been a problem.
“Every single day someone illegally passes a school bus on the left. As a driver, you are scared, your heart is in your throat, but mostly you are seriously angry that someone would do that. People are in a hurry, distracted, etc., and just simply not paying attention if they are missing a massive yellow vehicle with red lights flashing in their lane of traffic. Hard to understand, isn’t it?”
Miller told me that most Colorado school districts require school bus drivers to make right-hand stops, so students don’t have to cross the road. She said, however, bus operators still see other drivers, even semi-trucks, pass buses on the right side when the red lights are flashing.
In January, at the National School Transportation Association meeting in San Diego, industry officials called the illegally passing of school buses an epidemic.
Last year, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services conducted a nationwide survey with bus drivers about the problem of illegally passing a school bus. In Colorado, on April 19, 2022, 648 bus operators counted a total of 274 drivers who illegally passed them. That was just on one day. The survey also showed a total of 51,593 illegal bus passings happening across 34 states on a single day during the 2021-22 school year. The sample results point to more than 41.8 million violations per school year across the country.
The fines for passing a school bus when the lights are flashing can be steep, but they pale in comparison with the obvious danger of running over a child getting on or off the bus. The violation is a Class 2 misdemeanor traffic offense. The charge is elevated to a class 1 misdemeanor traffic offense for any driver who had already been convicted of running the red on a school bus within the previous five years.
Under Colorado law, drivers convicted of a Class 1 misdemeanor traffic offense are subject to a minimum sentence of 10 days in jail or a $300 fine, or both, and a maximum sentence of one year in jail or a $1,000 fine, or both. Persons convicted of a Class 2 misdemeanor traffic offense are subject to a minimum sentence of ten days in jail or a $150 fine, or both, and a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail or a $300 fine, or both. Persons convicted of Class 1 or Class 2 misdemeanor traffic offenses must also pay restitution and may be sentenced to community service.
I attached a helpful graphic to this story that helps illustrate when you do and when you don’t need to stop for a school bus.
Denver7 Traffic Expert Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 25 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook,Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Spotify or Podbean.