To stop or not to stop for school buses

Our children are back in school, and that means the school buses are running again. Motorists have enjoyed a reprieve from having to stop for the flashing red lights on school buses, but that reprieve is over.

There always seems to be a great deal of confusion when it comes to school buses, the red lights and when you do and do not have to stop for them. So, what are the rules and are there any exemptions? That is a great question! Let’s see if I can explain it easily.

The section of law that covers this issue is contained in 22454 of the California Vehicle Code. I could just print that section here; but, as with all laws, it is full of legalese and is somewhat difficult to understand. A “red light stop” is defined as when a school bus is loading or unloading schoolchildren, has its flashing red lights activated and its stop signal arm extended (if equipped).

The gist of section 22454 V.C. is that when a vehicle (including a bicycle) approaches a school bus that is conducting a red light stop, the driver is required to bring the vehicle to a stop before passing the bus. Once the driver stops the vehicle, he is required to remain stopped until the red flashing lights have been turned off.

Is the driver required to wait for the school bus to pull back out into the traffic lane before proceeding? No. As a matter of fact, it would be better for the driver to not wait for the bus to pull back out. Why? Because if the driver waits for the bus to pull back out, he would be behind the bus again the next time it comes to a red light stop and the cycle would repeat with a line of traffic growing longer and longer behind the bus.

Once the red lights go out on the bus, the right-of-way rules switch from the bus to the vehicles on the roadway and the bus must yield the right of way to through traffic and safely merge back into traffic.

The exemption to this law pertains to a divided roadway or a multi-lane roadway. When a school bus comes to a red light stop on one of these roadways, drivers in the opposite lane of traffic are not required to stop, but the drivers on the same side of the roadway are required to stop.

So what is the definition of a divided roadway or a multi-lane roadway? A divided roadway has some type of physical separation between the two directions of traffic flow. That separation can be “K-rail,” a “Jersey wall,” a painted “double-double yellow” also called an “island,” an actual raised concrete “island” or a center median.

Not all bus stops are red light stops requiring traffic to come to a stop. However, since we are talking about the safety of our children, I would recommend to any motorist that when you see a school bus approaching a bus stop, be ready to come to a stop.

Because red lights flashing or not, a school bus is synonymous with children, and a child can come running out into the road at any second.

Our school bus drivers are very conscientious and careful drivers who share the same overall concern I do: that our community’s children are the safest they can be going to and coming from school.

It was the school bus drivers who recommended that I write this article and I wholeheartedly agreed. I have seen first-hand the confusion surrounding school buses flashing red lights both while in a “black and white” and in my own private vehicle.

We all hope this article clears up the confusion.