The Do’s and Don’ts of Passing a Stopped School Bus

You cannot pass a school bus that is unloading passengers, has its stop signs extended, and/or its flashing lights turned on. Penalties include hefty fines.
Written by Brittni Brinn
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
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If a school bus is stopped to unload passengers with its lights flashing and its stop sign extended, you must stop and wait until all the passengers are safely on the sidewalk, the lights are turned off, and the stop sign is withdrawn.
Following a school bus can be frustrating—but it’s important to pay attention when you are driving near one and come to a complete stop if it is unloading passengers. Depending on which state you’re in, there are different laws about when and where you are allowed to pass a school bus. 
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DO keep an eye on the school bus ahead of you and drive with caution

If you are behind a stopped school bus and wish to pass it, notice if its lights are flashing or if the stop signs on the side or back are extended. 
You may not pass a bus that is unloading passengers. Wait until the passengers are safely off the bus and the school bus turns off its lights and retracts its stop signs.
There are some instances where you can pass a school bus:
  • If the bus is parked directly adjacent to a school or is in a school parking lot, you are allowed in most states to pass the bus with caution
  • When a school bus is driving down a roadway, you are allowed to pass it as you would any other vehicle
Key Takeaway You are not allowed to pass a school bus that is unloading passengers, has its lights flashing, and/or has its stop signs extended.

DON’T pass a school bus that has its lights on and stop signs extended

When a school bus ahead of you stops to unload its passengers, you must also come to a complete stop. The bus driver will indicate that the bus is unloading by extending the stop signs and turning on the flashing lights. 
If you are approaching on the other side of an undivided road, most states require you to stop as well.
Passing an unloading school bus is illegal and comes with serious consequences. Penalties include hefty fines, demerit points, and even license suspension or jail time.

DO familiarize yourself with the laws in your state

The specific laws and penalties for passing a stopped school bus vary from state to state. Fines for passing a stopped school bus vary from a couple hundred dollars to over a thousand bucks. Make sure you look up the laws for where you live.
In some states, you don’t have to stop for a school bus if you’re driving on the other side of a road divided by a raised concrete barrier. Still, always be aware of people crossing the road if you see a bus with its lights flashing and stop signs extended.
Key Takeaway Pay extra attention when you are following or approaching a school bus. Always be aware of where passengers are unloading and crossing the road.

DON’T forget that these laws exist to protect children and other passengers

If you’re stuck behind a school bus that’s unloading, be patient. Remember that these laws exist to protect the children or other passengers who are getting off the bus.
Stay aware at all times when you are driving near or stopped by a school bus. When a stopped bus retracts its stop signs and turns off its flashing lights, make sure that all of the passengers are safely on the sidewalk before you continue driving. 
By following your state’s passing laws, you protect yourself and your driving record as well.

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FAQs

In most states—even if you’re coming from the opposite direction—you still have to stop if the school bus is unloading passengers, has its lights flashing, and/or its stop signs are extended.
This also applies to multi-lane roads that are not separated by a raised concrete barrier.
If the bus is unloading, you should be at least 10 feet away from the bus, or far enough away that someone could cross between the back of the bus and the front of your vehicle. 
The required distance varies from state to state. Some states require you to stop as far back as 50 feet!
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