USA and Canada Holiday Hints
When a school bus stops to pick up or drop off children the driver switches on red flashing lights and makes a stop sign extend out from the side of the bus on a folding arm.
If a school bus has its stop sign extended and/or its red lights flashing then traffic IN BOTH DIRECTIONS must stop, so as to allow children to cross the road safely.
Passing a stopped school bus with its stop sign extended and/or its red lights flashing is a very serious offence which in most cases will result in the suspension of a driver's licence.
As you will see below, there are unfortunately complications to the simple rule, and these complications vary between states. Also, in some states the law on the subject of passing stationary school buses is vague, or its description in publications such as the state's official drivers' handbook is vague. Many drivers are naturally extremely cautious about breaking the law with regard to stationary school buses and will stop in all situations. I would advise visitors to the USA and Canada to also err on the side of caution and to stop well clear of a stationary school bus unless the other traffic in your carriageway is clearly not doing so.
The Illinois drivers' handbook "Rules Of The Road" (published Oct-98) states: "You do not always need to stop when meeting a stopped school bus on a roadway with four or more lanes. You do not need to stop if you are travelling in the opposite direction of the bus, but you should drive cautiously."
Justin JIH (external link verified Jun-03), who has researched this subject extensively, says:
Oncoming traffic need not stop for a stopped school bus on an undivided highway with at least three lanes in Washington State, four lanes in California, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio and South Dakota, or five lanes in North Carolina and Utah.
The drivers' handbooks for other US states may use slightly different wording, for example they may say that you do not need to stop if the school bus is travelling in the opposite direction on a divided highway (dual carriageway) where there is a median strip (central reservation) between the carriageways.
Justin JIH says:
Generally in most places, a driver of a vehicle need not stop for a stopped school bus on a different roadway, usually on the other side of a divided highway.
However, a few places require traffic to stop even if the school bus is on a different roadway of a divided highway: Alabama and West Virginia in the case of non-controlled-access divided highways, Arkansas in the case of the divider being less than 20 feet (6 metres) in width, and Mississippi, New York State, American Samoa, Guam, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
However, Justin JIH has discovered that some US states and Canadian provinces do specify minimum distances, as follows:
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Most recently modified 22-Feb-04