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Auto Know: Legal lessons on driving around school bus

Published August 3, 2012


Q: Recently, I came up behind a school bus picking up kids at the curb. I stopped my car and waited, but my husband said that I could legally proceed as it only had its hazard lights on, rather than the overhead red lights blinking. What’s the correct thing to do?

A: Ontario Transportation Ministry spokesperson Bob Nichols replies:

Under the Highway Traffic Act (HTA), drivers in both directions must stop when approaching, from the front or rear, a stopped school bus with its overhead red lights flashing. Drivers approaching the bus from the front don’t have to stop if the highway is separated by a median.

If a school bus only has its hazard lights on — without overhead red lights activated — you should treat it as you would any ordinary vehicle stopped with its four-way flashers on. Drivers may pass with caution under these circumstances.

By legal definition, a school bus must be painted chrome yellow and display the words “school bus” on the front and rear and “do not pass when signals flashing” on the rear. These vehicles are permitted to stop traffic when picking up or dropping off children, or adults who have disabilities, whether or not it is a school-related trip.

School bus drivers can be charged for failing to activate the warning signals when required, as well as improperly activating the school bus signals (i.e. prohibited by HTA within 60 metres of a traffic light-controlled intersection).

Besides to-and-from school, a school bus may also be used to transport students to and from school events. The use of a “charter” sign is no longer required and the words “school bus” must not be covered up (otherwise, the stop arm and overhead lights become illegal equipment).

Typically, charter trips are conducted from one location to another. In these situations, there is usually no need to use the stop arm and lights. However, if students are picked up or dropped off on a highway, rather than in a parking lot, then proper use of the lights and stop arm is required.

By law, a retired school bus must have the words “school bus” and “do not pass when signals flashing” as well as the red overhead warning lamps and stop arm removed. It must also be repainted another colour as only school buses may be painted chrome yellow.

Q: I notice that many school buses now have a white strobe light on the rooftop. What does this mean? Am I, as a driver, supposed to take any special action when this light is activated?

A: Ontario Transportation Ministry spokesperson Bob Nichols replies:

White roof-mounted strobe lamps on school buses are neither required nor prohibited by the HTA. If they are voluntarily installed by the bus operator, roof-mounted strobe lamps must comply with the national school bus equipment standards. There are no rules in Ontario as to how or when the lamps are to be used by the driver.

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