School Bus Traffic Laws: When should you stop for a school bus?

Image and info provided by the Louisiana Dept. of Transportation and Development. (Stop signs and caution graphics added by KNOE for clarity.)

The middle of August means a lot of things to a lot of people, but for drivers, it mostly means saying goodbye to our yearly respite from sharing the roads with those massive maize machines known as school buses.

Subsequently, it's also time for a little refresher course on how to *legally* handle encounters with those bright behemoths should you find yourself approaching one while you're behind the wheel.

It's important that we drivers follow these laws... Afterall, the safety of our children depends on it.

Don't forget: When required to stop, Louisiana law requires that you stop at least 30 feet away from a loading/unloading school bus. (That's about 2 car lengths.)

When should you stop for a school bus?

This may seem simple, but we posed the question on Facebook and only 24% of respondents choose the correct answer. (You can see the Facebook post at the end of this article.)

So, let's break it down...

In Louisiana, school buses are legally required to have visual signs and signals that, when activated, alert drivers that they must stop before reaching, overtaking or passing the school bus. These signals usually take the form of a "STOP" sign and flashing red lights. They are activated when the bus stops for the loading/unloading of students.

According to Louisiana law RS 32:80, when those signals are activated (the signs are out or those lights are flashing) it's time to stop, under the following circumstances:

You must always stop for any loading/unloading school bus you approach if you are traveling in the same direction. This applies no matter how many lanes the highway has.

(Use the above image as a visual aid.)
If you are approaching the school bus head-to-head, as part of oncoming traffic, then you are legally required to stop if you are on:
A) a two lane highway
B) a three lane highway, with the center lane being a designated turn lane
C) a four lane highway, with no center designated turn lane

You are NOT legally required to stop if you are on:
D) a divided highway, with lanes separated by a median or physical divider
E) a highway with at least two lanes of travel in each direction, with an additional center lane that's designated as a turn lane.

If you're confused about that last one, it might be because just a few years ago, it was only legal to proceed when the highway was divided by a median or physical barrier (D). That's not the case anymore. Recent revisions, aimed at keeping children from walking across five lanes of travel, now require buses to load/unload on the both sides of the highway.

Here's the relevant section from RS 32:80:
C.(1) The driver of a vehicle upon a highway with separate roadways need not stop upon meeting or passing a school bus which is on a different roadway or when upon a controlled access highway and the school bus is stopped in a loading zone which is a part of or adjacent to such highway and where pedestrians are not permitted to cross the roadway.
(2) A highway with one lane in each direction and with a dedicated two-way left-turn lane shall not be considered a divided highway with separate roadways for purposes of this Section.


Admittedly, this can all be a little confusing. If you're more of a visual learner, just take a look at the image above. It has a break down of when you need to stop if you are part of oncoming traffic.

And here's a look at that Facebook question we mentioned before: