Meeting or overtaking a school bus in violation of Pennsylvania law is one of the most severe traffic violations an individual can receive. Law enforcement has zero-tolerance for drivers illegally passing a school bus because it places children at a direct risk of serious physical injury. It is estimated that over 1,000 motorists do not obey the school bus stopping law every year.
MEETING OR OVERTAKING A SCHOOL BUS (75 P.S. 3345)
The law requires a driver of a vehicle meeting or overtaking a school bus stopped on a highway (any publicly maintained roadway) or trafficway (any customarily driven way open to the public) to stop at least ten (10) feet from the school bus when the red signal lights on the school bus are flashing and the side stop signal arms are activated, even if a road has painted lines or ridged/grooved road dividers.
A driver approaching an intersection where a school bus is stopped must also stop at that intersection until the flashing red signal lights are no longer activated. Under no circumstances can a driver of a vehicle resume motion of the vehicle until the school children who have exited the school bus reach a place of safety.
GRADING AND PENALTIES
Grading: Summary offense
60-day license suspension period
5 points added to driver’s license record
PennDOT maintains a driving record for every licensed driver in Pennsylvania. Points are added to a driving record when a driver is found guilty of certain driving violations, such as meeting or overtaking a school bus, and upon accumulation of a certain number of points, a driver is subject to additional penalties.
“Meeting” a school bus means that a driver is in the opposing lane facing a school bus.
“Overtaking” a school bus means a driver is behind a school bus and passes the bus in the same direction of travel.
REPORTS BY SCHOOL BUS OPERATORS
School bus drivers who observe a violation of this law can prepare a written and signed report describing the incident. The report must include the following:
- information, if any, pertaining to the identify of the alleged violator;
- the license number and color of the vehicle involved in the violation;
- the time and approximate location at which the violation occurred; and
- identification of the vehicle as an automobile, station wagon, motor truck, motor bus, motorcycle, or other type of vehicle.
The school bus driver must deliver this report to the police within 48 hours. If the police believe a violation has occurred, the officer shall file a citation and the report with the Court. The Court will then issue a Summons so long as a sufficient basis exists. The Court will then send the violator a citation.
RED LIGHTS v. AMBER LIGHTS
The red signal lights on a school bus are installed as a signal to other drivers that the bus is stopped for the purpose of receiving or dropping off school children or persons with disabilities. The red lights remain on until those passengers are safely aboard the bus or at a place of safety.
Amber signal lights are activated prior to a bus stopping to receive or discharge school children and stay on until the red signal lights are activated. The driver of a vehicle meeting or overtaking any school bus shall proceed past the school bus with caution and shall be prepared to stop when the amber signal lights are flashing.
Pennsylvania law permits drivers already proceeding past school busses as the amber signals are activated to complete such passes, even where a bus driver subsequently activates the red signals and stop signal arm, so long as the driver can do so safely and without endangering children approaching or leaving the area of the bus. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed this issue in Commonwealth v. Schlegel, 577 Pa. 321, 325 (2004) and stated that once a driver encounters an already stopped school bus with amber flashing lights, the driver must stop at least 10 feet from the bus. The Court viewed the driver approaching the amber signal lights to be analogous to the treatment of a steady yellow traffic light at an intersection. It is a warning that the green light is being terminated or that a red light will be activated immediately afterward.
WHEN DOES A DRIVER NOT HAVE TO STOP?
While the law seems quite clear when a driver must stop for a school bus with flashing red signal lights, there are situations where it may be unclear whether a driver must stop or not. If unsure whether a driver must stop, it is always better to be safe and stop; however, Pennsylvania law provides that a driver is not required to stop for a school bus when that driver is on a separated portion of a clearly divided/separated highway or trafficway. This can be identified by physical barriers (such as concrete medians, guard rails, etc.) or medians which have trees, shrubs, grass, streams, etc.
THE MARTIN LAW FIRM, P.C.
The immediate assistance of a skilled lawyer is advisable whenever a person is charged with a traffic-based summary offense in Pennsylvania. An experienced attorney can work with you, the court, and the prosecution, to possibly have fines reduced, citations dismissed, charges lessened, and/or points decreased. We understand that the criminal and administrative penalties for illegally passing a school bus are harsh and an instant lapse in judgment may have a driver facing serious penalties. If you or a loved one has been charged with passing a school bus in Pennsylvania, contact the dedicated attorneys at The Martin Law Firm at 215-687-4053.