To the Editor:
Within the next few weeks, students across our state will be heading back to school. This means that thousands of them will be traveling to school on the school bus. School buses are some of the largest vehicles on our roadways, driven by some of the most highly trained driving professionals. With the back to school season approaching, I feel it would be a good time to remind the motorists of our state of the laws and procedures of driving near a school bus.
The lights on a school bus mean the same as they do on a traffic signal: flashing amber means the bus is preparing to stop, flashing red means stop. A school bus driver will activate their amber warning lights at least two hundred and fifty feet prior to bringing the bus to a stop to pick up or drop off students. Any motorist near a bus who sees flashing amber lights should be aware that the bus is approaching a stop and should be prepared to stop. This applies to traffic traveling in both directions, unless the roadway is divided by a grass or concrete median. Once the door of the bus is opened the red lights will activate and the stop sign will extend. Students will be loading or unloading from the bus and may be crossing in front of the bus. If the bus has a monitor, they will be checking the danger zones of the bus to ensure that no student or object is in them. This process takes time! Motorists should remain stopped until all red lights on the bus have switched off, the stop sign has retracted, and the bus has reentered traffic. It is illegal to pass a stopped school bus, and motorists that are caught by the police can be subject to a hefty fine and possibly the loss of their driver’s license.
The average school bus is approximately forty feet long, eight feet wide, and weighs approximately sixteen tons empty. They require a lot of space to maneuver, turn, and most importantly stop. School bus drivers are trained to leave at least four seconds of space in front of the bus to give the bus plenty of room to stop safely. Everyone should be considerate of this and not enter that safety cushion suddenly, especially when it is raining or snowing. We should also be considerate and give them plenty of space to safely turn; as buses turn widely and have a tail swing.
School buses in Rhode Island have a maximum speed limit of 35 miles per hour on residential roads (or the posted speed limit if it is lower) and 45 miles per hour on the highway. They are required to stop at all railroad crossings. No one should ever tailgate a school bus and be courteous of the professional drivers carrying our state’s most precious cargo, obeying the traffic laws they are required to follow.
Please remember this information the next time you see a school bus. A child’s life may depend on it!
The author is a school bus driver in Middletown.