Even though the start of the new school year may not be a traditional one due to the coronavirus pandemic, schools in some parts of the country are beginning to reopen. However, after many months of driving without encountering school buses or children walking to and from school, it’s easy for drivers to forget the challenges of driving in school zones. Here are some important things professional and civilian drivers need to remember to help keep America’s school children safe.

Respect the Yellow Bus

  • Know the laws for sharing the road with school buses, especially:

    • It is illegal in all 50 states to pass a school bus that is stopped to load or unload children. Yellow flashing lights mean the bus is preparing to stop; red flashing lights and an extended stop sign arm indicate that children are getting on or off the bus.

    • Traffic in both directions must stop on undivided roadways when students are entering or exiting a school bus. State laws on divided highways vary, but all states require that traffic traveling in the same direction as the bus must stop.

  • Give children plenty of space to safely enter and exit the bus. Children are most in danger of being hit in a 10 feet perimeter around a school bus. Watch for children arriving late for the bus, who may dart into the street without looking for traffic.

  • Keep in mind that with new safety COVID-19 precautions for school bus riders (e.g. screening questions, temperature checks, social distancing, etc.), loading and unloading may take longer than in the past. Remain patient.

  • Follow at a safe distance. Remember that school buses make frequent stops and must stop at all railroad crossings.

Watch For Pedestrians & Riders

  • Don’t block a crosswalk when stopped at a red light or waiting to make a turn. Forcing pedestrians to go around your vehicle puts them in danger. In school zones with blinking warning flashers, stop and yield to pedestrians whether there is a marked crosswalk or not.

  • Avoid honking the horn or revving your engine when children are in front of your vehicle in a crosswalk. You can startle them and cause an accident.

  • Pay extra attention in school zones and residential areas, as well as near playgrounds and parks. Youngsters can be difficult to see, especially at dawn or dusk or in poor weather when visibility is reduced.

  • Keep in mind that, due to social distancing, children may be walking in a single file rather than in groups, making it more difficult to notice them when they are crossing the street.

  • Recognize that youngsters can be impulsive and will often take risks, ignore hazards or fail to look both ways before crossing the street. Remain vigilant, particularly for children distracted by cell phones or wearing headphones.

  • Give children riding bikes, scooters or skateboards a wide berth. If passing, do so slowly and smoothly. If you don’t have sufficient room, do not attempt to pass.

  • Use your turn signals and allow riders to pass before making a turn. The most common causes of collisions with bicycles are when drivers are turning left in front of an oncoming bicycle or turning right across the path of the bicycle.

  • Watch out for bicyclists, scooter riders, and skateboarders coming out of driveways or from behind parked cars or other obstructions.

  • Be aware that children riding bikes, scooters or skateboards may swerve, brake suddenly, or even fall. There can also be obstacles on the roadway such as debris or potholes that can be challenging even for experienced riders.

  • Expect increased foot and bicycle, scooter and skateboarder traffic throughout the day. With delayed reopenings of schools and some students choosing virtual learning, children may be playing outside or taking a recess break at unexpected times.

Remember the School Zone Rules

  • Observe the posted speed limit and be prepared to stop. Even if a school has delayed its reopening, obey the flashing lights and adhere to the proper speed limit.

  • Obey all school zone warning signs and instructions from patrol officers and crossing guards.

  • Slow down and remain attentive for newly-licensed, inexperienced teenage drivers.

  • Be patient when you encounter heavy traffic in school zones during peak times. Also note that some school districts may be staggering bus schedules to keep students safely socially distanced. This means that school zones may be active for longer or active at unexpected times.

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