Eric Lai answers readers’ auto questions every week for Wheels.
Q: School bus drivers often apply the flashing red lights while they are still in motion. This would cause me to stop, and they would then drive by. Is it the retractable stop sign on the bus that’s the deciding factor on when traffic must stop? Could I be charged if I pass the still-in-motion school bus with flashing red lights?
A: Section 175(11,12) HTA states that drivers on a highway approaching, from the front or rear, a stopped school bus with its overhead red signal lights flashing, shall stop at least 20m before reaching the bus and shall not proceed until the bus moves or the overhead lights have stopped flashing. Drivers need not stop if they are on the opposite side of a median from the school bus.
As you can see, it’s the overhead lights that are key as there is no mention of the retractable stop sign often used as additional safety equipment on school buses in the section above.
While a school bus driver might begin to activate the overhead lights prior to coming to a full stop (likely as a warning to motorists that they are about to stop), the law specifies that traffic in both directions is required to halt for a “stopped” school bus with overhead red lights activated.
If a school bus has its overhead lights activated as it slows down, other drivers should best slow down in response and be prepared to stop a safe distance away as the bus comes to a full stop. (Stopping isn’t necessary if a moving bus passes you by in the opposite direction.)
Where a school bus activates the overhead lights only after coming to a full stop, other traffic should then stop. However, if you were truly too close to stop safely at the very instant the bus came to a halt with its lights activated – and an observing police officer would agree on this point – you may proceed.
Don’t over-think it. It’s the safety of schoolchildren that’s at stake, so simply put, ALWAYS STOP, unless it’s genuinely not possible to do so safely.
Information above is of a general nature only and should not be taken as legal advice or opinion.