§545.066 – PASSING A SCHOOL BUS; OFFENSE
(a) An operator on a highway, when approaching from either direction a school bus stopped on the highway to receive or discharge a student: (1) shall stop before reaching the school bus when the bus is operating a visual signal as required by Section 547.701; and (2) may not proceed until: (A) the school bus resumes motion; (B) the operator is signaled by the bus driver to proceed; or (C) the visual signal is no longer actuated. (b) An operator on a highway having separate roadways is not required to stop: (1) for a school bus that is on a different roadway; or (2) if on a controlled-access highway, for a school bus that is stopped: (A) in a loading zone that is a part of or adjacent to the highway; and (B) where pedestrians are not permitted to cross the roadway. [...] (f) For the purposes of this section: (1) a highway is considered to have separate roadways only if the highway has roadways separated by an intervening space on which operation of vehicles is not permitted, a physical barrier, or a clearly indicated dividing section constructed to impede vehicular traffic; and (2) a highway is not considered to have separate roadways if the highway has roadways separated only by a left turn lane.
It’s been widely reported by numerous school districts and police agencies that many drivers either have no clue about the requirement to stop for school buses, are simply are not paying attention, or frankly are in too big of a hurry to stop (I hope it’s not that last one, although in this day and age, it’s certainly possible.) The law is simple: if you are approaching a school bus that has stopped and its red lights are flashing, you must stop. Most school buses also have one or more stop signs on the driver’s side that swing out to remind you of your duty to stop.Traffic heading in both directions is required to stop and the requirement to stop applies in both urban as well as rural areas.
Once you have stopped, you are required to remain stopped until the lights stop flashing, the bus has started moving again, or the driver waves you to move on.
Note that in Texas traffic code, the term “highway” is defined to mean any public roadway, including city streets (§541.302).
There are a couple of exceptions to the requirement to stop. One is if there is a median, island, or physical divider between you and the school bus; in those cases, you can proceed, but I recommend that you do so cautiously in case any kiddos are crossing carelessly (it’s been known to happen.) Note that the law specifically indicates that a left turn lane does not count as a divider– this means that even on a street with three lanes in each direction plus a center turn lane, traffic in all seven lanes must stop for a school bus. (The reason for the difference is that an island provides a safe place for pedestrians to wait for a break in traffic while a left turn lane doesn’t.) There is also an exception for when a bus is stopped in a loading zone on a controlled-access highway (i.e. a freeway), but that seems to be an artifact from the old days as I have never actually seen one of these.
A common question is whether you have to stop if a school bus is stopped at an intersection but is on the intersecting street, i.e. is not on the same street you’re on, and you’re traveling straight through or turning away from the bus. The law is not clear on this. However, the statute reads that you have to stop “when approaching from either direction.” This would seem to indicate that you have to be moving toward the bus from the front or rear. If the bus is on a different roadway than you, you’re not really approaching it from either of those directions. Furthermore, it says drivers “shall stop before reaching the school bus”, but if you’re on an intersecting roadway, you would never “reach” the bus. Finally, the title pretty much indicates the intent of the statute– that drivers may not pass a stopped bus. Again, if you’re on an intersecting roadway, you would never “pass” the bus. Given all of that, it appears the law does not require you to stop in this situation. That said, if the bus is at or in close proximity to the intersection, and you’re not on a major thoroughfare (where stopping unexpectedly poses a hazard), it’s probably a good idea to stop, if not for legal reasons, then certainly for safety– especially if there are kids who look like they might want to cross your street. If you do chose to proceed, do so with extreme care.
Now, if you’re approaching a school bus stopped across an intersection from you on the same street and you wish to turn before reaching the bus, that’s even less clear. In that case, it’s probably best to stop.
As a footnote, I’ve seen some school bus drivers who will stop their bus in the intersection to make this all a moot point, and some jurisdictions (wisely) place their stops mid-block to avoid any such issues.
School buses with hazard flashers on
School buses are required by law to stop at all railroad crossings. When they do this, they usually switch on their hazard flashers to warn traffic behind them of the impending stop. You are not required to stop for the bus in this case (unless you are directly behind them, of course.) You are only legally bound to stop when the alternating red lights at the top of the bus are flashing. It should also be noted that sometimes when discharging or boarding passengers, the driver may determine that there is not a need to stop traffic, for example, when stopped in a loading area in front of a building, and will only activate the bus’s hazard flashers. Again, in this case, you are not required to stop; however, you should proceed with extreme caution.
Yellow flashing lights
Finally, most school buses also have yellow alternating flashing lights next to the red ones; these are used to warn drivers that the bus is about to stop. You are not required to stop when the yellow flashers are on, but you should be prepared to do so. Essentially, they have the same meaning as a yellow traffic signal– a warning that the the red lights will come on shortly.
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