When to stop for a school bus: Fines start at $100
It's been six months since students have been in school and that means months since school buses have also been on the road. AAA says it's a good time for a refresher course in back-to-school safety.
COVID-19 concerns means more traffic safety concerns near schools, said Frank Neary, AAA Mid-Atlantic traffic safety specialist. Staggered schedules and social distancing could mean more school buses on the roads. Many parents may choose to drive their kids to and from school, increasing the volume of vehicles during drop-off and pickup. He said more students may walk or bike, which, in turn, increase foot and bike traffic close to schools.
As far as bus safety, he said a driver is required to stop for a bus on the roadway at least 25 feet away when the bus has its red lights flashing. The only time a driver does not have to stop is if there is an island or a barrier between that car and the bus. In that case, Neary said the car can proceed at 10 mph.
School bus laws are pretty clear in New Jersey, he said. You may pass a school bus with flashing red lights when it is parked in front of a school on the same side of the road, but only at a speed of no more than 10 mph.
The first offense penalty for passing a school bus is at least $100, 15 days in jail or community service, or both. For a subsequent offense, drivers face fines of no less than $250 and up to 15 days in jail or both. Neary said if there are willful violations, the State Motor Vehicle Commission can revoke a driver's license.
He said to also be aware that the penalty for passing a school bus includes five points on a driver's license, which is one of the highest point-total offenses on the books.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, the laws are just as strict. Motorists are required to stop at least 10 feet away when behind the bus, meeting the bus, or approaching an intersection where a bus is stopped.
In Pennsylvania, it is illegal to pass a school bus when its red lights are flashing and stop arm is extended. Violators could face a $250 fine, five points on their driving record, and a 60-day suspension of their license.
As far as pedestrian safety, Neary said cross at corners only. Never cross between parked cars or mid-block. Remove headphones and don't use cell phones or electronic devices when crossing the street. Pedestrians need to hear what's going on around them, and not just see.
When there are no sidewalks, pedestrians should walk facing traffic. It's the opposite of those on bicycles: Bikes go with traffic. He also advised wearing light colors so drivers can better see pedestrians.
When it comes to bike safety, make sure the students understand the rules of the roads and have the skills to ride safely. A helmet is required when riding a bicycle in New Jersey until a person is 17 years old. But Neary said it's strongly recommended even beyond that. Those riding to school should not have earbuds on or be on their cell phones so they are not distracted from the sights and sounds around them.
"No matter the plan, no matter the mode of transportation, everyone needs to remain vigilant, put down the cell phone, look up and pay attention to help our students get to and from school safety," Neary said.