We hear stories every year about a driver ignoring the flashing red lights on a school bus as children go to and from school — some vehicles even making deadly contact with kids as they cross the street. In November of 2018, WAVE-TV in Louisville, Kentucky, reported that as many as 15 million drivers nationwide passed a school bus despite flashing lights, stop signs and crossing arms being deployed, placing students at risk.
As school is back in session, Lt. Andy Creech, public information officer for the Payette County Sheriff’s Office, spoke to the Independent-Enterprise on Sept. 25 in an effort to help keep this precious cargo safe.
“People need to make sure to be watching out for the school buses ... as they’re letting children off the vehicle. They need to make sure and be watching the kids, to make sure they’re safe,” says Creech.
The laws can be confusing to some drivers, but Creech clarified when one needs to stop for the red lights:
On a two-lane road, whether coming or going, all motorists needs to stop. On a four-lane road, when divided by a center turn lane or median, oncoming traffic is not required to stop.
However, motorists headed in the same direction as the bus on a four-lane road, “need to make sure and stop and wait for the bus driver to let kids off the bus,” warns Creech. “When they retract that stop arm, and also when they turn off the flashing red lights,” is when traffic may proceed.
In addition, signs on the back of buses remind drivers to stop. These are either printed or illuminated signs affixed to the rear of the buses.
According to Creech, Payette County has a good safety record as of late. Only one incident was documented during the 2018-19 school year, in Payette in April.
“Most of the citizens in the county, I think, do a good job of trying to pay attention to buses and stop,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of problems in the past on our highways, where the speeds are higher and people may not be expecting the buses or paying near as much attention to them.”
Despite this safety record, Creech emphasizes it’s important to not let one’s guard down.
“Especially on the highways in the county, people need to be paying attention for school buses in the mornings and also after school.”
In Idaho, passing illegally is an infraction, with fines beginning at $200 for the first offense, $400 for the second time and $600 the third time around. There is also the potential for points against the driver to be added on their license.
In Oregon, passing a bus when the red lights are flashing is a Class A violation with fines starting at $465 and going up to $2,000, according to AARP.
“If you get enough citations, then you’ll get a suspension on your license as well,” says Creech about Idaho laws.