Start of school year means buses back on roads

What you need to know to keep drivers and students safe

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On Wednesday, Aug. 11, over 31,000 students will head back to school in Baldwin County. Whether they travel by bus, car or foot that adds a lot of traffic to the local early morning commutes. Don't know the rules about traveling around school buses? In Alabama, it's fairly simple. Alabama law forbids drivers from passing a stopped school - or church - bus in almost every situation. Two-lane road: when bus stops, all other traffic stops. Four-lane road: when bus stops, all other traffic stops. Six-lane road: when bus stops, all other traffic stops. Drivers on both sides of the road must remain stopped until the bus begins to move forward again. The only time traffic can remain in motion is when a bus stops on a divided, four or six-lane highway. If there is a barrier between the opposing lanes cars approaching the bus from the opposite direction are not required to stop. Cars traveling the same direction as the bus must stop every time the bus stops, regardless of the type of road. Nationally officials estimate that drivers illegally pass school buses 13 million times a year. Drivers who refuse to heed the law face stiff penalties. The fine for illegally passing a stopped bus is $150 to $300 for the first offense while a second offense could net a fine of $300 to $500 and suspension of your driver's license for 30 days, and 100 hours of community service. A third offense could result in fine of up to $1,000, license suspension of 90 days and 200 hours of community service. A fourth offense is a felony, punishable by a fine of up to $3,000 and a one-year license suspension. Passing a school bus illegally has proven to be deadly. Officials estimate that 19 children are killed every year in the U.S. while getting on and off a school bus. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has these tips for school bus safety: For Parents • Your child should arrive at the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive. • Children should wait at least three giant steps (six feet) away from the curb. • Remind your child that the bus stop is not a place to run or play. Get On and Off Safely • Wait until the bus comes to a complete stop, the door opens, and the driver says to board. • Use the handrails to avoid falling. Use Caution Around the Bus • Never walk behind a school bus. • If your child must cross the street in front of the bus, tell him/her to walk on a sidewalk or along the side of the street to a place at least five giant steps (10 feet) in front of the bus before crossing. • Your child should also make eye contact with the bus driver before crossing to make sure the driver can see him/her. • If your child drops something near the school bus, like a ball or book, the safest thing is for your child to tell the bus driver right away. Your child should not try to pick up the item, because the driver might not be able to see him/her. For Drivers • When backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch out for children walking or bicycling to school. • When driving in neighborhoods with school zones, watch out for young people. • Slow down. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks in the neighborhood. • Watch for children playing and congregating near bus stops. • Be alert. Children arriving late for the bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic. • Be aware of the "flashing signal light system" that school bus drivers use to alert motorists of pending actions: * Yellow flashing lights indicate the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. Motorists should slow down and prepare to stop their vehicles. * Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate the bus has stopped and children are getting on or off. Motorists must stop their cars and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop-arm is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving before they can start driving again.