Ask a Trooper: Back to School Driving

Well folks, it’s that time of year…summer is coming to an end (yep, that means you have to start remembering what day of the week it is again). While we may have a few weekends of sunshine left, the 2016-2017 school year is about to be in full swing and that means you should probably expect a few changes to your commutes. From school buses to new teen drivers on the road, Washington State Patrol (WSP) Sergeant James Prouty sat down to answer questions on how to stay safe this upcoming school year.

 

What does the RCW say about passing school buses?

RCW 46.61.370

Overtaking or meeting school bus, exceptions—Duties of bus driver—Penalty—Safety cameras.

  • The driver of a vehicle upon overtaking or meeting from either direction any school bus which has stopped on the roadway for the purpose of receiving or discharging any school children shall stop the vehicle before reaching such school bus when there is in operation on said school bus a visual signal as specified in RCW 37.190 and said driver shall not proceed until such school bus resumes motion or the visual signals are no longer activated.
  • The driver of a vehicle upon a highway divided into separate roadways as provided in RCW 61.150 need not stop upon meeting a school bus which is proceeding in the opposite direction and is stopped for the purpose of receiving or discharging school children.
  • The driver of a vehicle upon a highway with three or more marked traffic lanes need not stop upon meeting a school bus which is proceeding in the opposite direction and is stopped for the purpose of receiving or discharging school children.
  • The driver of a school bus shall actuate the visual signals required by RCW 37.190 only when such bus is stopped on the roadway for the purpose of receiving or discharging school children.
  • The driver of a school bus may stop completely off the roadway for the purpose of receiving or discharging school children only when the school children do not have to cross the roadway. The school bus driver shall actuate the hazard warning lamps as defined in RCW 37.215 before loading or unloading school children at such stops.
  • Except as provided in subsection (7) of this section, a person found to have committed an infraction of subsection (1) of this section shall be assessed a monetary penalty equal to twice the total penalty assessed under RCW 63.110. This penalty may not be waived, reduced, or suspended. Fifty percent of the money so collected shall be deposited into the school zone safety account in the custody of the state treasurer and disbursed in accordance with RCW 46.61.440(5).
  • An infraction of subsection (1) of this section detected through the use of an automated school bus safety camera under RCW 63.180 is not a part of the registered owner’s driving record under RCW 46.52.101 and 46.52.120, and must be processed in the same manner as parking infractions, including for the purposes of RCW 3.50.100, 35.20.220, 46.16A.120, and 46.20.270(3). However, the amount of the fine issued for a violation of this section detected through the use of an automated school bus safety camera shall not exceed twice the monetary penalty for a violation of this section as provided under RCW 46.63.110.

 

What is the fine for ignoring school bus laws?

The fine for illegally passing a school bus is $430— a fine that cannot be reduced by a judge.

 

When can I legally pass a school bus?

Below is a chart that indicates when it is legally acceptable to pass a stopped school bus that has its red lights flashing and “STOP” paddle extended. Please note it is ALWAYS required that you stop in the following areas:

  • School grounds
  • Day care centers
  • Public areas

1.JPG

*Two Lane Road = One lane in each direction.

* Three Lane Road = One or more lanes in each direction which can include a turning lane.

* Divided Highway = Opposite directions of travel that are separated by a barrier or median.

* Bus Pulled Completely Off Road = Buses pulled completely off the road will NOT have red lights flashing or the “STOP” paddle extended.

 

Do bicyclists have to stop for school buses?

Yes, when bicyclists are traveling on the roadway they must adhere to the rules of the road unless posted otherwise.

 

What do the different colors of flashing lights on a school bus mean?

Amber lights = Slow down (caution) and be prepared to stop.

Red lights= Stop.

 

Does the WSP inspect school buses?

The Washington State Patrol’s Commercial and Vehicle Enforcement Bureau works in partnership with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to inspection more than 10,000 school buses annually.

 

What are your best tips for kids riding the bus?

According to NHTSA, most school-aged children are killed during the hour before and after school than any other time during the day. It’s so important to always be aware of your surroundings.

  • Learn about the “danger zone”. There is a 10-foot wide area on all sides of the bus, where the driver cannot see you. When you get off the bus, step outside of the danger zone until you can see the driver’s face. Children should be taught when exiting, they should take at least 10 giant steps away from the bus before walking away.
  • Start your day with plenty of time to get to the bus stop.
  • Stay alert as you walk to the bus stop.
  • Know your bus driver and bus number.
  • Make sure you have the Transportation Director’s contact information just in case you have any questions or encounter a problem.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times.

 

What about tips for teenagers driving to school alone for the very first time?

According to the CDC, an average of 16 teenagers aged 16-19-years-old die each day from motor vehicle injuries. They are the most at risk demographic than any other age group, being three times more likely than drivers aged 20 or older to be in a fatal collision. It’s important for them to be educated on traffic safety. Here is a link to a CDC website that offers more tips and training on keeping teen drivers safe: https://www.cdc.gov/ParentsAreTheKey/danger/index.html

  • Wake up early so ensure you have plenty of time for breakfast, grooming, etc.
  • Make sure your car has gas.
  • Wear your seatbelt.
  • DO NOT be on your phone behind the wheel.
  • Remember children are on their way to school too— mind school zones, buses, etc.
  • Abide by the speed limit.

 

Let’s Talk about Friday Night Lights…

High school football season is about to kick off! Good news, right? Absolutely! However, there are a few things to keep in mind before and after games…like drunk drivers.

If you are under 21-years-old in Washington State, you cannot legally drink or possess alcohol. It is important to understand that even a small amount of alcohol can affect motor skills and judgement. If alcohol is involved in your night:

  • Plan for a ride or designated a sober driver before the event (or even organize carpools).
  • If you see a friend who is about to drive drunk, suggest alternative ways of getting home, take their keys, call them a cab, anything you can to stop them from getting behind the wheel.
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