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Virginians Reminded to Travel With Caution as Schools Reopen

Motorists who pass a stopped school bus could face a reckless driving charge 

As a new academic year begins and schools across the Commonwealth return to session, Governor Ralph Northam today urged motorists to do their part to keep Virginia’s students safe.

“On any given school day, nearly one million Virginia students are transported on more than 15,000 school buses operated by the Commonwealth’s school divisions,” said Governor Northam. “The safety of our children is a responsibility shared by motorists, school bus drivers, parents, school administrators, and communities. Stopping for a school bus is not only considerate, it’s Virginia law.”

School bus safety is the latest traffic-safety priority to be addressed by the Governor and his Executive Leadership Team on Highway Safety, which is led by the Secretaries of Transportation and Public Safety and Homeland Security and comprised of representatives from the Virginia Departments of Motor Vehicles, Transportation, Health, Education and the Virginia State Police. The team is charged with reducing injuries and fatalities on Virginia’s roadways and driving change in the Commonwealth’s highway safety culture.

“I can’t think of driving behavior more reckless than putting the lives of children in danger,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “Law enforcement officers across Virginia are looking for violators of our school bus safety laws because many of them are parents too and keeping kids safe is one of our most important priorities.”

As the yellow lights of a school bus flash, drivers should slow down, prepare to stop and be alert for children who may step out into the road to board the bus before traffic is stopped. Virginia law mandates that traffic must stop for stopped buses with red flashing lights and a stop sign extended. Motorists must also stop if a bus is loading or unloading children even if the signals on the bus are not on. Traffic traveling in both directions must remain stopped until all persons clear the roadway and the bus begins to move again.

The only time motorists do not need to stop is when the school bus is traveling in the opposite direction on a divided roadway with a median or barrier.

Drivers who are pulled over for passing a stopped school bus could face a charge of reckless driving, a Class 1 misdemeanor. If convicted, it could mean up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.

“School buses are designed and built to transport children safely,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, safety features such as flashing red lights, cross-view mirrors, stop-sign arms, protective seating and high rollover and crush protection standards, coupled with strong safety laws and industry regulation, make students 70 times more likely to get safely to school by school bus when compared to those traveling by car.”

“Families have an important role to play in keeping their children safe by making sure they know how to safely board and exit a bus,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “By taking a few minutes to have a conversation about school bus safety and reinforcing those lessons at the bus stop, a parent can protect his or her child from injury or even death.”

Here are some tips for parents to share with their children:

  • When the bus approaches, stand at least five giant steps (10 feet) away from the curb, and line up away from the street.
  • Do not attempt to board the bus, or cross the road to get to the bus, until the bus is fully stopped and its stop sign is extended. Look both ways and make sure no other vehicles are approaching.
  • If you have to cross the street in front of the bus, walk on the sidewalk or along the side of the road to a point at least five giant steps (10 feet) ahead of the bus before you cross. Be sure that the bus is stopped and that the bus driver sees you and indicates that it is safe for you to cross.
  • Tell an adult if you drop an item near a bus, or any vehicle. Don’t run back to get it unless an adult says it is safe.

State Board of Education regulations require school divisions to conduct emergency exit drills for all school bus riders at least twice a year, with the first drill occurring within 30 days of the start of school. Divisions also are required to provide a copy of their bus rider safety rules to parents at the beginning of the school year.

More information about school bus safety from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles is available here.

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