Passing a stopped school bus illegally while driving can result in 4 or 5 points on your license, as well as various fines. It’s also incredibly dangerous because there might be children crossing the road. Every year, children are killed when cars fail to stop even though school buses have flashing lights and stop signs put out. States have varying rules regarding passing stopped school buses. However, in NC there are very few situations where you are allowed to pass a bus that is stopped with lights on. Know the rules in your area, and know that it’s always fine to simply play it safe and stop every time.

Passing a Stopped School Bus: Know the Rules of When You Can and Cannot

Importance of Knowing the Laws

Not passing a stopped school bus is one of the most important rules for drivers to be aware of. When a bus is about to pick up or let children off the bus, it gives plenty of warning for other drivers. For example, it will flash its lights, slow down, and will eventually swing out a stop sign. These are all signals that you should look out for if you’re traveling anywhere near a bus or see one approaching. After the first flash of light, you should remain behind the bus. Never pass by it in either lane to get ahead of it while it’s giving a warning. If you are approaching it in the oncoming traffic lane, it’s also safest to stop as soon as you see it signaling.

When You Must Stop

North Carolina has specific rules regarding passing a stopped school bus. For example, you may find yourself on a two-lane road without a median or turn lane. If so, both directions of traffic should stop if a school bus signals that it’s stopping. Similarly, some roads have two lanes of traffic with a center lane in between them for turning. Even though oncoming traffic is far away because of the turn lane, you still need to stop in all lanes. Finally, if you are traveling on a four-lane or more road without a median, all traffic must stop.

When You May Pass

There are only two situations where passing a stopped school bus is legal. First, if you are traveling on a divided highway of four lanes or more with a median separating different directions of traffic. If this is the case, only traffic behind the bus traveling in the same direction needs to stop. Oncoming traffic can still continue. Similarly, if you’re traveling on a road or highway of at least four lanes with a turn lane separating them. Oncoming traffic may pass the bus in this situation. However, again, all traffic traveling in the same direction as the bus must stop. All in all, you should mostly avoid passing a stopped school bus altogether. While there are a few situations that may allow it, they do not come up that frequently. It’s less likely that you’ll be traveling on a four-lane or more highway and see a bus stopping to pick up or drop off kids. You’re much more likely to come across this situation in town on smaller roads. If that’s the case, you must stop regardless of what lane you’re traveling in. The bus will give you a warning by flashing its lights and swinging out a stop sign. As soon as you see the first flash of light, begin slowing. It’s important to know the rules because breaking them could result in points on your license. Much more importantly, you are keeping children safer by being aware of school bus safety.