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Stop for school buses because it’s the right thing to do

Aug. 14, 2017

Photo of a school bus with lights flashing and stop arm extended.
Photo: Minnesota law requires drivers to stop at least 20 feet from a bus with red lights flashing. Stop arm violations carry a minimum fine of $500.​

As a motorist, getting stuck behind a school bus can be annoying. There you are, stopping every block or two, waiting as kids and teens get on or off the bus. Here, a mom leans in the door to speak to the driver. There, a little girl runs back on to retrieve a forgotten mitten. It’s easy to get impatient.

And although you’re probably like most people, who know that their inconvenience is less important than schoolchildren’s safety, not everyone thinks that way. Which is why there are laws in Minnesota in place that penalize drivers who don’t practice good school bus safety.

In fact, when you applied for your driver’s license, you certified that you understood that you must stop for a school bus and are aware of the penalties for violating the law. But there’s no harm in a little refresher course to make sure you don’t accidentally run afoul of the law as school comes back in session.

First and foremost, put away your phone and other distractions. The easiest way to sail past that school bus stop arm and injure or kill a child is not to see it because you’re looking for your phone or reaching for a napkin. Slowing down and staying alert, especially in neighborhoods and school zones, help too. And chances are that any neighborhood you drive through isn’t served by just one school, so 6:30-9:30 a.m. and 2-5 p.m. are the times you’ll want to be especially careful.

Now for the details. If you see flashing yellow lights, that means the school bus is about to stop. If you’re behind it, it’s illegal to pass on the right side. If you’re going the opposite direction, though, passing a school bus with flashing yellow lights is okay.

If you see flashing red lights, that means the bus has stopped and is loading or unloading students. The only time it’s okay to pass a bus with red lights flashing is if you’re going the opposite direction on a separated roadway. Otherwise, you must stop at least 20 feet from the bus, no matter which direction you’re going or what lane you’re in. That’s because kids may run across the street from the opposite side to catch their bus.

And the penalty for violating these laws? Five hundred dollars is the minimum – added to the penalty of knowing you’ve endangered children’s lives.

So whether you’re a parent or not, remember that school bus stop arm violation laws are in place to protect our children – and that it’s much more important to do that than to get where you’re going quickly.