Written By Christopher Dolan
This week’s question comes from Becky M. in SoMa who asks: When I was dropping my daughter off at elementary school last week, I drove up the street next to the school. It’s a narrow road with one lane in each direction. I was waiting in line for curbside drop-off when a yellow school bus stopped in front of us and turned on its red flashing lights. I stopped behind the bus and waited, even though I could have passed the bus in the lane for oncoming traffic. All the other cars behind me started honking and passing the bus on the left side. I was in a rush to drop off my daughter, but I waited for the lights to stop flashing before I went ahead and dropped her off. I thought I was supposed to wait behind the bus, but no one else was waiting, did the law change?
Thank you for your question, Becky.
The law has not changed. You did the right thing by stopping for the bus and remaining stopped until the bus turned its flashing lights off. California Vehicle Code section 22454(a) requires:
“[t]he driver of any vehicle, upon meeting or overtaking, from either direction, any school bus equipped with signs as required in this code, that is stopped for the purpose of loading or unloading any schoolchildren and displays a flashing red light signal … visible from the front or rear, shall bring the vehicle to a stop immediately before passing the school bus and shall not proceed past the school bus until the flashing red light signal … cease[s] operation.”
Simply put, this means that when the bus stops and flashes its red lights, located at the top front and back of the bus, you must bring your car to a stop, even if you are traveling in the direction opposite the bus. You must stop with enough clearance to allow for children to safety cross the street in front of the bus. You also must stay stopped until the bus turns off its red flashing lights, even if you do not see any children crossing the street. While it might seem inconvenient to stop and stay stopped for such a long time, this is an important, life-saving rule. When the bus is stopped with its red lights flashing, it means that children are either getting on or off the bus and are likely to be crossing the street. Because the bus is large and the children are small, your view of the children crossing may be obstructed.
The consequences for breaking this law can be astronomical — your careless decision could take away a precious, young life. Even if you are lucky enough not to harm a child while passing a stopped bus with flashers activated, your selfish act can earn you a $1,000 fine and a 1-year license suspension.
With school back in session for Fall, it is a good time to remind ourselves to slow down, be patient, and drive safely. Here are a few good rules of thumb to help keep school children safe:
- School Zone Speed Limits: Drivers should always observe reduced school speed limits, typically 25 mph or even as low as 15 mph. Watch out for school crossing guards and follow their instructions.
- Watch for Pedestrians and Bicycles: Drivers should be extra vigilant in keeping an eye out for children walking, biking, or scootering to school. Young children riding bikes or scooters can be unsteady, unpredictable, and are often inexperienced.
- No Distractions: Keep your eyes on the road rather than on your phone or any other device. Taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds means that you may not see a child crossing in front of your car.
- Talk to your Child: Teach your child to be safety-conscious. Remind your child to keep a proper lookout for cars in the roadway, be alert while crossing the street, and make sure that drivers see you/acknowledge your crossing. Also, remind your child to be aware of cars entering driveways or backing up.
If you were injured in an accident caused by a careless driver, you have the right to seek compensation for your economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages include items such as property damage, medical bills and lost wages; non-economic damages include things like pain and suffering, physical impairment and inconvenience. It is important to retain a skilled trial attorney to ensure that you receive full and just compensation for your injuries.