The All Things Legal is predicated upon looking at the legal angle behind topics that are currently in the news. So it should come as no surprise that when a topic relevant to the legal practice of Ashton and Price—bus accidents, which occur all too often in the Sacramento area–made national news, Craig Ashton and company sat up and took notice.
Craig: “So, I was watching a CBS insight piece on [children] getting hit by vehicles when they’re crossing the street after getting off a bus… They are now putting five foot stop extensions on buses, so when the [stop sign] comes out and it’s flashing red, they have another arm that extends—this is in North Carolina—where it keeps people from passing buses.”
According to CBS This Morning, drivers in the US passed school buses—breaking local laws—more than 13 million times. However, some states are fighting back by adding cameras to school buses to record dangerous drivers. In Austin, Texas, local police review video taken by school buses and send $300 citations to drivers who are recorded illegally passing school buses. In four months, they sent out 6,600 citations.
(A word of warning: The video included in the article features school bus footage of three children being struck by cars. None of the children were seriously injured, but the clips may disturb some viewers.)
California’s Rules for Passing School Buses
Ed Schade: “Right now in California… I don’t remember, was it about 10, maybe 15 years ago was when school buses started having the stop sign that would flip out on the back. And they passed that law… in a residential neighborhood, if you’re coming from either direction, you cannot pass that bus once those lights are on and once that stop sign’s out, until they are retracted and gone. And I thought it was a good idea, because kids are notoriously [unpredictable].”
California enacted the “Red Light Law” in 1999, which made it illegal to pass a school bus in some cases. However, the law can be a bit confusing, so Craig took some time to clarify how the law works.
Craig: “Okay, let’s talk about California Vehicle Code Section 22454. This is the rule: If you’re on a two lane road, and a bus is stopped and it’s loading or unloading students, and it displays a flashing red light and a signal arm, you must stop. And you must stop and wait for all of the children to get on and off the bus. Until the bus pulls away, you cannot pass it. Even if you are on the other side of the road, if it’s a two lane [road], you’ve got to stop.
“In regards to a divided highway or a multiple lane highway, you need not stop upon meeting or passing a school bus that is on the other side of the roadway. So if the bus is on the other side of the roadway, and it’s divided by a barrier, or there’s multiple lanes and it’s on the other side of the road, you may continue on. But if you’re traveling either on a two lane highway the same direction as a bus that’s got its lights on and the stop sign out, and kids are getting on and off, you must stop behind that and not pass it. Period, end of story.
“It’s really important that you get that right. Because you get that wrong, you’re going to have legal liability. But not only that, you’re going to harm a child.”
A good rule of thumb for passing school buses: When in doubt, STOP.
Ed: “When in doubt, stop. It’s that easy. If you’re not sure, safety overrides everything. Go ahead and pull over, because you never know what a kid’s going to do. They come darting out… I’ve actually tried ‘dart out’ cases, and they’re not fun.”
Craig: “No, little children are very unpredictable. And that’s what darting out is all about. A lot of times you’ll be driving down the road and just all of a sudden a child just runs in front of your car. You’re typically not legally responsible for that, because you couldn’t have anticipated that action, and therefore you couldn’t have used reasonable care to avoid it.
“But when you’ve got a bus, you’re stuck. You hit that boy or girl, or even the bus driver, when the lights are on and you’re violating the Vehicle Code, and you really seriously hurt them, you’re going to have some issues from a criminal perspective, and big issues from a civil perspective.
“So don’t do it. Give the kids some room.”
Ed: “Oh, that, and you have to live with yourself the rest of your life. So, just avoid it.”
It’s easy to get preoccupied with whether an action is legal or not. But as Craig and Ed point out, at the end of the day, it’s best to do what is safe. If you see a school bus with its stop sign extended, pull over and stop. Even if you aren’t technically required to do so—because you’re on a multi-lane or divided roadway—a police officer isn’t going to pull you over because you were a bit overzealous about driving safely.
Child safety comes first. When you see a school bus loading or unloading children, stop.