CHICAGO – Now that the back-to-school season has shifted into full gear, school buses are once again sharing roads across the area with motorists.

While cars and school buses have coexhisted on the roads for years, the relationship between the two can sometimes get strained due to impatience or unawareness on behalf of motorists.

School buses are the safest vehicle to carry children to and from school according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), even safer than in your car.

However, the most dangerous part of the ride for children is getting on and off the school bus.

In fact, the loading and unloading area of a school bus is called the “Danger Zone,” a 10-foot area on any side of the bus where the bus driver may not see a child.

More children and pedestrians are injured or killed near or outside of a school bus because a motorist didn’t obey the bus stop-arm warning or follow local traffic laws.

It’s Illegal to pass a school bus with its red stop-arm extended while loading or unloading children in Illinois.

Since the stakes are so high and many drivers may need a refresher, WGN News Now has what you need to know below.

BUS WARNING

When you see flashing yellow lights, that means the school bus driver is getting ready to stop to load or unload students, so slow down and be prepared to stop. The bus driver will activate the red flashing lights and extend the stop arm to show the bus has stopped, then students will be getting on or off the bus.

LAWS

Two-lane roadway:

If a school bus traveling on a two-lane roadway stops to drop off children, vehicles in all lanes of traffic must stop at least 20 feet away from the school bus to give students time to safely cross the roadway. 

One way roadway:

All lanes of traffic are required to stop when a school bus stops to load or unload students on a one-way road. This applies no regardless of the number of lanes.

Four or more lane roadway:

Motorists traveling on a roadway that has four or more lanes with at least two lanes of traffic moving in the opposite direction, do not have to stop when they see a school bus stopped in the opposite direction. But, if drivers are traveling in the same direction as the school bus when it stops to pick up or drop off students, they must stop.

Railroad Crossings:

School buses are required by state law to stop for all railroad crossings. The driver will activate the hazard warning lights as they determine if it’s safe to cross. You can drive by the bus if you’re approaching it from the front; but if you are behind it, you cannot pass if the bus is within 100 feet of a railroad crossing. You should also leave plenty of room between your vehicle and the bus in case it has to back up or maneuver in case of an emergency.

PENALTIES

The penalties for illegally passing a school bus are a mandatory minimum fine of $300 and the suspension of your driver’s license for 3 months. A second offense or conviction within five years will get you a mandatory minimum fine of $1,000 and a one-year suspension of your driver’s license. The offense is not criminal, but it can reportedly affect your insurance premiums.

RESUMING

After stopping, motorists can resume driving once the bus resumes traveling, the flashing lights are turned off and the stop arm is no longer extended, or the bus driver signals the motorist to go ahead.

The Illinois State Police want motorists to also keep in mind that children can become easily distracted and may start to cross the street without warning. They add many aren’t capable of judging the speed or distance of a vehicle and expect vehicles to stop for them at a bus stop; so be sure to use extra caution when driving.