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When can you pass a school bus in Michigan?

Now that school is back in session, school buses are back on the road. Can you pass a school bus?

Can you pass a school bus legally in Michigan? Here are the rules

(Image credit: Michigan State Police)

Can you pass a school bus legally in Michigan?

Now that school’s back in session and school buses are back on the roads picking up and dropping off children, this is one of the questions popping up for many drivers.

The law is pretty straight-forward, so I thought today’s blog post would be a great opportunity to address school bus safety.

Specifically, Michigan law requires drivers on a non-divided highway or roadway to stop their vehicles at least 20 feet from a stationary school bus that has its lights flashing:

“The operator of a vehicle overtaking or meeting a school bus that has stopped and is displaying 2 alternately flashing red lights located at the same level shall bring the vehicle to a full stop not less than 20 feet from the school bus and shall not proceed until the school bus resumes motion or the visual signals are no longer actuated.” (MCL 257.682(1))

In its compelling graphic, “School Buses are Like Traffic Signals” (which appears above), the Michigan State Police does an excellent job of driving home the three main points that drivers must remember:

  • When a school bus’s overhead lights (near the roof, on both sides of the words “School Bus”) are flashing yellow, prepare to stop.
  • When a school bus’s overhead lights are flashing red, then drivers must stop no less than 20 feet from the bus.
  • When a school bus’s hazard warning lights (lower on the bus, likely mounted over the front wheel wells) are flashing, then drivers may proceed with caution.

Additionally, on its “School Bus Safety” web page, the Michigan State Police offers the following safety tips for drivers:

  • Prepare to stop when a slowing bus has its overhead yellow lights flashing
  • Stop at least 20 feet away for buses when red lights are flashing, unless driving in the opposite direction on a divided highway
  • Slow down in or near school and residential areas
  • Look for clues-such as safety patrols, crossing guards, bicycles, and playgrounds-that indicate children might be in the area
  • Watch for children between parked cars and other objects

Can you pass a school bus? Penalties for violating the rule

Drivers who violate the general rule of stopping when a school bus has its red overhead lights flashing face a “civil infraction” (a woefully inadequate penalty given the danger involved) and up to 100 hours of community service at a school. (MCL 257.682(1) and (4))

Drivers who commit a moving violation within the “school bus zone” – especially if someone is injured or killed – face significantly harsher penalties:

  • “[A] person responsible for a moving violation … in a school bus zone is subject to a fine that is double the fine otherwise prescribed for that moving violation.”
  • “A person who commits a moving violation in … a school bus zone for which not fewer than 3 points are assigned … and as a result causes injury to another person in the … school bus zone is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000.00 or imprisonment for not more than 1 year, or both.”
  • “A person who commits a moving violation in a … school bus zone for which not fewer than 3 points are assigned … and as a result causes death to another person in the … school bus zone is guilty of a felony punishable by a fine of not more than $7,500.00 or by imprisonment for not more than 15 years, or both.” (MCL 257.601b(1)-(3))

Michigan law defines the “school bus zone” “as the area lying within 20 feet of a school bus that has stopped and is displaying 2 alternately flashing red lights at the same level …” (MCL 257.601b(5)(c))

Can you pass a school bus … safely?

Below are the statistics for school bus crashes in recent years:

  • 2016 – 958 school bus-related crashes
  • 2015 – 910 school bus-related crashes
  • 2014 – 1,007 school bus-related crashes
  • 2013 – 872 school bus-related crashes

(Source: Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, “Fact Sheets,” 2016-2013)​

This entry was tagged Tags: School bus safety
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