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Back to School Safety Tips for Drivers

Safe Driving Tips for Back-To-School Time

School is back in session, an exciting time for parents and students alike. After over a year of virtual learning and overwhelming obstacles in between, students can finally get back to in-person learning. That said, considering the long duration of virtual learning during COVID-19, it wouldn’t be surprising if parents, students, and drivers forgot some key safety tips for driving and walking around schools and buses.

Different rules apply for drivers and pedestrians in school zones and around school buses, which is why it is important to get a little “refresher” on school zone regulations and school bus traffic rules. For this reason, we explain key tips for drivers and pedestrians to consider as they prepare for back-to-school time.

School Bus Safety Rules

How do you drive around a school bus? Many people don’t know the answer to this question, and that’s why we’re here to clear things up. According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT), drivers must stop on a street or highway at least 20 feet from any stopped school bus with flashing red warning lights. This applies to vehicles approaching from either side of the stopped bus, and drivers must stop their vehicles until the school bus driver turns off the red warning lights and proceeds to drive.

The “stop arm” on the school bus is an added precaution to alert drivers on the roads, but keep in mind that not all school buses have these stop arms. As such, even if you don’t see a stop arm, you should remain at least a 20-foot distance away from the bus and avoid passing the school bus.

Keep in mind that some school buses in urban areas use yellow lights to alert other drivers rather than red lights. Yellow lights on school buses indicate that drivers should “pass cautiously.” In that case, drivers should pay close attention to the color of the lights and proceed accordingly. Red lights require a full stop and yellow lights require cautious (slow) passing.

The fine for passing a school bus in Wisconsin ranges from $30 to $300, depending on the circumstances involves. If you speed around a school bus with flashing yellow lights, you may be fined less than you would if you speed around a school bus employing the stop arm or flashing red lights. Regardless, the bottom line is you should exercise high awareness around school buses, as you could pay steep fines at best or get criminally charged at worst.

How Many Feet Away from a School Bus Should Pedestrians Be?

Parents often walk their children to the school bus stop. Once they arrive at the stop, both parents and their children should follow some key rules for bus safety. The Wisconsin DOT advises parents and children to stay at least 3 “giant” steps (6 feet) away from the curb, wait until the bus fully stops, and wait until the driver says it is time to board the bus before doing so.

When it comes to crossing in front of a school bus, parents are strongly advised to remind children of the following tips:

  • Cross 5 “giant” steps (10 feet) away from the front of the bus
  • Make sure the bus driver can see the children crossing and vice versa
  • Look out for other traffic as well, or “look both ways before crossing the street”

Tips for Parents Driving Children to School

If you are driving your child to school, make sure to stay alert at all times. Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of traffic-related injuries and deaths in the US, so stay off the phone, don’t fiddle with the radio or GPS, and keep both hands on the wheel. Doing so could save lives.

In addition, the National Safety Council advises parents to:

  • Obey school zone speed limits and follow your school's drop-off procedure
  • Make eye contact with children who are crossing the street
  • Never pass a bus loading or unloading children
  • Stop far enough back to allow children to safely enter and exit the bus, as the area 10 feet around a school bus is the most dangerous for children

Pedestrian Safety Tips Around School Buses

Pedestrians, including children, face a high risk of getting injured or even killed around school buses. Drivers who fail to stop for a school bus or improperly pass a school bus could not only be fined up to $300 but worse, they could be held responsible for any injuries or deaths that arise. For these reasons and more, we strongly encourage you to keep the following school bus safety rules in mind:

  • Obey traffic signs and signals.
  • Walk, don’t run.
  • Be alert, especially in bad weather.
  • Use sidewalks, but if you must walk in the street, make sure to walk facing traffic and stay close to the edge of the road.
  • Cross streets only at intersections or crosswalks rather than entering roadways from between parked cars or from behind shrubs or bushes.
  • Don’t assume drivers will stop for you, as they may be distracted or focused on cars rather than pedestrians.
  • Make yourself seen, especially at night. Wear white or light colors, reflective strips, and carry a flashlight if you’re walking at night.

While children are strongly advised to follow the tips above, parents should educate their children about the rules of the road and practice safe pedestrian habits with them. Common safety issues involving children that parents should address include:

  • Darting between cars
  • Playing in streets
  • Running across intersections
  • Getting on or off school buses
  • Running across streets without looking

With these elements in mind, parents should take the time to teach their children about drivers’ rights and actions so they can be safer pedestrians.

Strong Defense Starts Here

Unfortunately, anything can happen at any time and at any place. A pedestrian may have sprinted out into oncoming traffic, crossed the street too early, or failed to look both ways before crossing. Or maybe, you were driving distracted and didn’t realize a school bus had the red stop-arm out and got a traffic ticket as a result. With back-to-school time in full swing, it is common for drivers and pedestrians alike to make mistakes. After all, it’s been over a year since schools were fully open due to the pandemic, making it easy to forget the rules of the road.

Whether you’re accused of a minor traffic violation or something more serious such as recklessly endangering safety or reckless homicide, know that legal help is just a phone call away. Your fight is our fight.