(WAVY) — As students head back to school, there are several safety recommendations and laws that drivers need to remember before hitting the road.

To start, if you encounter a bus on the road with its stop arm out, drivers must come to a complete stop. The only exception is if you are separated by an unpaved median and traveling in the opposite direction.

The Rutter Mills law firm reminds drivers of the following Virginia school bus traffic laws:

  • Drivers must stop for stopped school buses with flashing red lights and an extended stop sign when they approach from any direction on a highway, private road or school driveway.
  • Vehicles must stop and remain stopped until all persons are clear and the bus moves again.
  • You must also stop if the bus is loading or unloading passengers and the signals are not on.
  • Drivers do not have to stop if they are traveling in the opposite direction on a roadway with a median or barrier dividing the road and the bus is on the opposite side of the median or barrier.

As of 2019, Rutter Mills says the penalties for failing to stop for a school bus in Virginia range from a $250 fine to a $2,500 reckless driving violation fine.

School zone speeds will decrease during pick-up and drop-off hours. During these times, vehicle and pedestrian traffic in the area will be increased. To keep yourself and school-goers safe, the National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA) asks drivers to:

  • Put cell phones down when behind the wheel
  • Always check your review mirrors
  • Do not travel too closely to school buses
  • Watch for children playing and congregating near bus stops
  • Slow down and be alert

In all the back-to-school excitement, it’s likely some children may not be thinking to prioritize their safety. James Lash, Executive Director of Transportation and Fleet Management Services for Virginia Beach City Public Schools, says it’s up to the adults behind the wheel to stay alert to keep students safe. He adds that, as a former bus driver, having drivers not utilizing safe driving laws makes the job harder.

“It’s very frustrating to be a bus driver. You keep an eye on kids, you keep an eye on traffic, students at bus stops when you’re pulling up,” Lash explained. “To see a car go past you it’s very frustrating… and unnerving really. Because you just never know.” 

Experts also recommend parents have a chat with their students about traffic safety especially if they’re walking or biking to school.

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA), students are about 70% more likely to get to school safely when taking a bus instead of traveling by car.

They say that’s because school buses are the most regulated vehicles on the road; they’re designed to be safer than passenger vehicles in preventing crashes and injuries; and in every state, stop-arm laws protect children from other motorists.

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