HARRISBURG–Picture yourself on your way to work early one morning with a long line of cars behind you on a four-lane divided road–take Lincoln Way in Chambersburg as an example–when suddenly a school bus approaching from the other direction flips on the red flashing lights and the stop sign appears. There is a turning lane in the center of this road instead of a concrete barrier. Do you stop? What about Buchanan Trail over the mountain near Blue Ridge Summit? It’s a similar situation.
If you are unsure and the thought of this happening to you gives you anxiety, you’re not alone.
Operation Safe Stop, an annual school bus enforcement and education initiative, recently released data showing 252 violations of the law (up from the 120 reported last year). The initiative is held in conjunction with local and state police departments, school districts, and pupil transportation providers to conduct enforcement, raise public awareness about the consequences of improper passing of school buses, and reduce occurrences. Convictions for breaking the School Bus Stopping Law decreased from 746 in 2019 to 314 in 2020.
The School Bus Stopping Law requires motorists approaching a school bus with its red lights flashing and stop arm extended, to stop at least 10 feet from the bus. Motorists approaching from all directions are required to stop.
However, motorists who encounter a school bus stopping on the opposite side of a divided highway are not required to stop when lanes of the highway are clearly separated by a divider, such as a concrete barrier or grassy median.
“The penalties if convicted of disobeying the law are a $250 fine, five points on your driving record and a 60-day license suspension,” said Corp. Zeina Black, Permits and Bus Safety Unit Supervisor with the Pennsylvania State Police. “But even worse than these penalties, a tragedy could occur if either a driver or a student is not paying attention to their surroundings.”
Some safety tips for students to remember while waiting for or loading and unloading the bus include:
- Get to the school bus stop five minutes early, so you won´t have to run across the road to catch the school bus.
- When waiting for the school bus, stay away from traffic.
- Line up at least five giant steps away from the curb or the roadway to wait for the school bus.
- Never run after the school bus if it has already left the school bus stop.
- Never push when getting on or off the school bus.
“Student safety at school bus stops is a top priority that requires the cooperation and attention of all motorists,” said John Kashatus, School Safety Education Advisor with the Department of Education. “Local school districts work hard to identify the safest locations possible for school bus stops and to train their staff. But to ensure that students remain out of harm’s way, we urge all drivers to be attentive and watch for the flashing lights of school buses and always stop when students are getting on and off.”
To answer the question posed in the first paragraph of this article, you DO need to stop on Lincoln Way where there is a center turning lane. If the highway has a grass or concrete center divider, you do not need to stop.
Refer to the graphic below for additional scenarios.