Transportation

Safety

The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) section 40-6-163 covers the circumstances under which motorists must stop when approaching a bus that is loading or unloading students with its warning signals activated.

The driver of a vehicle meeting or overtaking a school bus stopped on the highway shall stop before reaching such school bus when there are in operation (activated) the school bus visual signals and such driver shall not proceed until the school bus resumes motion or the visual signals are no longer actuated.

Here's a translation for those of us who don't understand legalese: if a bus is on the street with its red lights and stop arm flashing—do not pass it! The only exception to the law is if the bus is operating on a four-lane highway with a median—such as a grass strip or concrete barrier—which provides a physical divide. Drivers traveling in the opposite direction of the bus are not required to stop on such a road. Drivers following a bus are always required to stop when the bus' stop lights are activated.

Here are a couple of practical examples: on the sections of Memorial Drive where there is a concrete median, drivers do not have to stop when the bus is on the other side of the road, but drivers following the bus must stop; on Lawrenceville Highway, which does not have any median, drivers traveling in both directions must stop when the bus has its stop arm and lights activated.

Improper passing of a school bus carries a hefty penalty. Drivers convicted of unlawfully passing a school bus receive a hefty six points (fifteen points within twenty four months gets your license suspended)—the most points the state gives. Fines run into the hundreds of dollars. Drivers under twenty one found guilty of unlawfully passing a school bus will have their license suspended for a minimum of six months.

In addition, conviction of unlawful passing of a school bus will likely result in a hefty increase in your insurance rates.

GaDOE Health & Safety Curriculum - School Bus Safety

The Georgia DOE Department of Pupil Transportation assists local school districts in their efforts to provide safe and efficient transportation for students to and from school and school related activities. The department provides assistance in the areas of driver training, funding, equipment specifications and purchases, interpretation of State and Federal laws and regulations, and routing. For more information please visit the opens in new window icon GaDOE School Bus Safety website [ http://www.gadoe.org/Finance-and-Business-Operations/Pupil-Transportation/Pages/School-Bus-Safety.aspx ].

School bus danger zones (animated).

Tips

Parents

Parents are strongly encouraged to make bus stops safer by escorting children to the bus stop.

  • Talk about bus safety with your child.
  • Escort your child to the bus stop in the morning.
Students
  • Be early! Arrive at least five minutes ahead of time.
  • Wait for the bus in an orderly manner.
  • Wait for the driver's signal before crossing the street.
  • Cross the street at least ten feet in front of the bus.
  • Never walk behind or crawl under a school bus.
  • Never go back to the bus for anything you may have dropped or left behind.
  • Never run to or from the bus.
  • Remove or secure drawstrings, straps, and the like, or any piece of clothing or accessory (book bag, etc.) that could get caught in the bus door or hand rails.
  • Always obey the driver.
  • Stay in your seat.
  • Keep your hands, arms, and head inside the bus.
Motorists
  • Be on the look out for children. They can appear suddenly and without notice out from behind stopped school buses.
  • Please obey the posted speed limit in school zones. Children may be present in the area at any time, but are especially present when the lights on the school zone sign are flashing.
  • Please keep your eyes out for crossing guards when children are walking to and from school. Failure to stop for a crossing guard carries the same penalty as failure to stop for a traffic light or a stop sign.
  • When the yellow warning lights on the bus flash, this lets motorists know that the bus will be stopping to load or unload students. Please slow down and prepare to stop instead of speeding up to pass the bus.

Lane Ranger: Drivers plead ignorance of law on passing school buses

Joey Ledford—Staff
Sunday, August 26, 2001

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Reprinted with permission from the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution. Further reproduction, retransmission, or distribution of these material without the prior written consent of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution, and any copyright holder identified in the material's copyright notice, is prohibited.

John Foltz sees them almost every day: motorists brazenly breezing by stopped school buses, despite the buses' flashing red lights and extended stop arms. "As someone who at one point was going to drive a school bus, it makes me mad," said the Decatur man, who commutes into Atlanta. "I don't even have children, but it's dangerous."

Not only is passing a stopped school bus dangerous, but it's one of the most serious moving offenses in Georgia traffic law. If you're convicted, it's a 6-point violation on your license. Accumulate 15 or more points in two years, and your license is suspended.

Gordy Wright, spokesman for the Georgia State Patrol, pointed out that drivers under 21 who are convicted of passing a stopped school bus automatically lose their license.

Fear of hefty fines, losing your license and higher insurance premiums apparently aren't enough to make Georgians respect the safety of children. The state Department of Education asked bus drivers statewide during one school day in 1998 to count the vehicles that illegally passed them. The report: more than 6,000. Interpolated over a school year, that's about 1.1 million offenses.

I think (many drivers) are just distracted to the point that they just go down the road and don't pay attention to anything," said Sam McCullough, the department's director of transportation.

He recalled a woman several years ago who faithfully took her children to the school bus stop every day, waited until they boarded and then proceeded to illegally pass the bus a few stops down the road. She was finally cited.

"She claimed she didn't know she had to stop," said McCullough.

The law calls for motorists on both sides of the road to stop whenever a bus has its red lights flashing and its stop arm extended. The only motorists who can legally pass a stopped bus are those on the other side of a highway with a raised median. Turn lanes, by the way, aren't raised medians.

Bill Bast, DeKalb County schools' assistant director of safety and training, said his office receives about five reports a day of illegal bus passing --- obviously a fraction of the offenses that occur.

"DeKalb (police) have worked well with us on sending officers to any bus route where it is a chronic problem," Bast said.

Bast said he was horrified last school year to witness a motorist pass a bus and strike a McNair Middle School student who had just gotten off the bus.

"I had the pleasure of watching him be handcuffed and put into a patrol car," he said, adding the student was not seriously injured.

Cobb County police Cmdr. George Hatfield said his department will prosecute drivers who pass buses providing the bus driver manages to get a license plate number and a description of the car and driver.

"The ones that are flagrant, that the bus driver has a good recollection of, we will prosecute them," said Hatfield.

Most police departments will not pursue eyewitness reports from third-party motorists or parents because of the difficulty in making such cases without police witnessing the offense.

Cobb police have used video cameras to nab bus passers.

It doesn't seem to faze some people that a marked squad car is following a bus, he said. They'll pass it anyway.