Trooper Gary Cutler
It’s that time of year when the trees lose their leaves and parents lose their kids to the school system. This means we have kids all over the place going to school along with other activities and that means we need to be more careful out there when driving, particularly around school buses.
We’ve all seen those big yellow school buses with the red flashing lights and the stop sign that extends out of the left side. Today we look at what you should do when you see those all so important lights. First, let’s look at how buses operate. When making a stop, buses should try to stop as far right of the roadway as possible to reduce obstruction to traffic. The alternating flashing yellow lights you see when the bus is moving need to be turned on at least two hundred feet prior to the point where the bus is planning to stop. This doesn’t mean you should quickly try to pass the bus when you see those come on.
Drivers should also begin to slow. You have to remember kids also see those lights and sometimes run across the road to get to the bus. So please be patient and know it won’t take long to get the kids on or off the bus. When the yellow lights transition to the red lights is when the bus is stopped. This means everyone must also stop.
So here are the reasons a bus will activate its lights: whenever the school bus is stopped to load or unload schoolchildren, stopped because it is behind another school bus that is loading or unloading kids, or is stopped because it has met a school bus traveling in a different direction that is unloading or loading kids.
A school bus driver carrying any schoolchild is also required before crossing any tracks of a railroad, to stop within fifty feet but not less than fifteen feet from the nearest rail and shall not proceed until the driver can do so safely.
So now, here’s the refresher on what to do when you come upon a school bus. If you are a driver on the road and come upon a bus from either direction that has stopped and its lights are activated, you need to stop your vehicle at least twenty feet before reaching the school bus. After the kids are off or on the bus, you are not allowed to proceed until the signal lights are no longer on. So make sure no one starts to go just because they think they don’t see any more kids. You can only proceed driving again once the bus driver turns off the lights.
Now we answer the question on what to do on a divided road. There aren’t too many of those in the rural areas, but here is what to do when you see one. If the highway has separate roadways then you are not required to stop upon meeting or passing a school bus which is on a different roadway. For the purposes of this section, “highway with separate roadways” means a highway that is divided into two or more roadways by a depressed, raised, or painted median or other intervening space serving as a clearly indicated dividing section or island. I would like to add to watch for those kids running across roadways though. Also if children are crossing the road at an intersection make sure you stop for them as required.
Another thing to know is the driver of a school bus not only can, but is required to call in any vehicles that disregard the activated red lights and passes the bus. Law enforcement will then take the information the driver provides and visit the other driver and will often issue a mandatory summons into court. The driver then gets to explain to the judge why he or she failed to stop for a bus loading or unloading kids. So if you see a bus loading or unloading kids, it’s best to make sure you stop.
If you care to read up on the law, you can find it in the Colorado Revised Statutes under 42-4-1903 (1). I’d like to mention one last thing this month. It is the goal of these articles to keep people as informed and safe as possible when driving in Colorado. With that being said, it was brought to the attention of the State Patrol that information in the article “Bicycles and Automobiles” was viewed as biased towards automobiles and did not encompass the law as it should have been stated.
I apologize if there was confusion on what I was trying to convey when it comes to automobile and bicycle laws. I believe if I had gone into more detail into some of the information I was providing in the article, it would have been a little clearer. We here at the Colorado State Patrol are dedicated to putting out information as accurately as possible.
I hope you enjoy these articles and will continue to read them in the future. We value everyone who uses the roadways and our goal is to keep everyone safe. I will strive to provide you with sound advice and safety measures to help you stay safe on our roadways.
As always, safe travels!