School’s back in session and that means fleets of yellow buses taking to the roads and millions of children nationwide walking and bicycling their way to classes. With many truck and bus routes passing right by elementary, middle and high schools, now is a great time to brush up on your back-to-school safe driving practices.

Respect the Yellow Bus

  • Know the laws for sharing the road with school buses. In particular:

• It is illegal in all 50 states to pass a school bus that is stopped to load or unload children. Yellow flashing lights indicate the bus is preparing to stop; red flashing lights and an extended stop sign arm indicates that children are getting on or off the bus. Remain stopped until the stop arm has been withdrawn, the flashing red stoplights have been turned off and the bus has moved on.

• Traffic in both directions must stop on undivided roadways when students are entering or exiting a school bus. State laws regarding divided highways vary, but all states require that traffic traveling in the same direction as the bus must stop.

• Don’t pass a school bus on the right; it is illegal and could have tragic consequences.

• School buses stop at all railroad crossings, so don’t follow too closely.

• Making right turns on red is tightly regulated for school bus drivers. Keep a safe distance and be patient.

• Give children plenty of space to safely exit a school bus. They are most in danger of being hit in a 10 feet perimeter around a school bus.

• Watch for children arriving late for the bus who may dart into the street without looking for traffic.

• During unloading, count the children as they exit the bus and monitor where they go, carefully scanning the entire area before moving. Be vigilant for children crossing the road as they may be easily blocked from your view due to their height and the size of your vehicle.

• Increase your following distance when following a school bus as they make frequent and often sudden stops.

Know the School Zone Rules

• Eliminate distractions and remain on high alert in and around school zones. While federal regulations prohibit texting and the use of hand-held mobile phones by truck and bus drivers while operating a commercial motor vehicle, any activity that takes your attention away from the task of driving could prove disastrous.

• Observe the posted speed limit and be prepared to stop. Children are unpredictable and will often take risks, ignore hazards or fail to look both ways before crossing the street.

• Obey all crossing guard signals and school zone warning signs. Make sure to come to a complete stop at stop signs and signals.

• Watch for drivers unfamiliar with traffic patterns in school zones. Slow down and increase your distance to give yourself ample time to react to any hazards.

• Keep in mind that a higher number of motorists you encounter near school zones may be newly-licensed teenaged drivers. They may be distracted and make unexpected maneuvers.

• Expect delays and be patient when you encounter heavy traffic in school zones.

Beware of Pedestrians and Bicyclists

• Keep your eyes moving in school zones and residential areas, as well as near playgrounds and parks. Look at least 15 seconds ahead, and scan from side to side to help spot pedestrians and bicyclists in or approaching the roadway, especially at dawn or dusk when visibility is reduced. Slow down  and proceed cautiously around driveways, parked cars or other obstructions. And remember, when children are present, there are probably more in the area.

• Watch out for distracted walkers and bicyclists. While all pedestrians and bicyclists deserve your attention, those using hand-held devices and/or wearing headphones are more likely to ignore traffic lights or neglect to look both ways before crossing the road.

• In school zones with blinking warning flashers, stop and yield to pedestrians and bicyclists whether there is a marked crosswalk or not.

• Stop when directed to do so by a patrol officer or crossing guard. Once the roadway is clear, proceed cautiously through the crosswalk area.

• Don’t block the crosswalk when stopped at a red light or waiting to make a turn, forcing pedestrians and bicyclists to go around you. This could put them in the path of moving traffic.

• Don’t pass a vehicle stopped for pedestrians and/or bicyclists.

• Avoid honking the horn or revving your engine when pedestrians and/or bicyclists are in front of your vehicle in a crosswalk. You could startle them and cause an accident.

• When passing a bicyclist proceeding in the same direction, do so slowly and leave at least a distance of three feet between you and the bicyclist. If you don’t have sufficient room, don’t pass until you do. Maintain your clearance until you have safely passed the bicycle.

• Always use your turn signals and allow the bicyclist to pass before making a turn. The most common causes of collisions with bicycles are when drivers are turning left in front of an oncoming bicycle or turning right, across the path of the bicycle.

Watch Around Campuses, Too

While the start of the school year presents its fair share of driving challenges around elementary, middle and high schools, professional drivers should also anticipate heavier traffic congestion around the nation’s colleges and universities. Local expressway traffic can be particularly problematic this time of year with many new students in town for the first time. Whenever possible, adjust your drive times to help reduce interaction with school commuters during peak times.

Conclusion

By being aware of back-to-school season driving challenges and following these guidelines, you can help keep everyone safe traveling to and from school. Remember, there may be a stopped school bus over the next hill or a child crossing at the next corner.