Authored by Ed Rebenack, Esq.
School Bus Safety Laws You Need to Be Aware Of
Each day, almost 800,000 students are transported to and from school in New Jersey, so it’s no surprise that most drivers encounter a school bus now and then. What are you supposed to do if a school bus is driving or stopping near you? There are a few school bus safety laws it is important to know about.
Motorists on the Same Side of the Road As the Bus Must Stop
New Jersey has several laws that govern how motorists are supposed to respond to school buses. First of all, it is helpful to learn how motorists should handle a stopped bus on their side of the road. If you are driving along and see that a school bus is stopped, look at its red lights. When the bus is just stopped at a light or stop sign, the red lights will be solid, and you can drive normally. However, when the driver is letting students off the bus, the red lights will be flashing, and there will typically be red “Stop” signs prominently displayed.
When you notice this happening to a school bus driving in front of you on your side of the road, you must stop. Drivers in front of the bus may continue. However, those behind the bus will need to stop regardless of how many lanes there are on the road. When you stop, you must stop 25 feet behind the school bus. This is roughly two car lengths in distance. Any cars behind the first stopped car must also stop. They do not need a 25-foot distance in front of them, however. They can just stop a safe distance from the cars stopped in front.
Drivers on the Opposite Side Have to Stop or Slow Down
If you are on the opposite side of the road, the rules are a little more complicated. How you respond will depend on the type of road you are on. If the road does not have a physical barrier, you have to stop. This means that when you are driving in the opposite direction on a road where just a line of paint separates you from the bus, you need to come to a stop when you see the flashing red lights. You must stop 25 feet away from the front of the bus.
When there is a divided highway, you do not have to stop. This rule applies to highways with any sort of physical barrier, including a small strip of grass and concrete, a cement wall, or a metal lane divider. Instead, you just need to slow down. You may drive no faster than 10 miles per hour when passing the bus in the opposite direction. You will need to reach this speed by the time your car is even with the bus, and then you must maintain it until you are completely past the stopped bus.
Breaking These Laws Can Cause Major Legal Consequences
Breaking New Jersey school bus laws, like driving around a school bus stopped in front of you or speeding past a bus stopped in the other lane, are offenses that get you a traffic ticket. The first time you are convicted of this offense, you face a fine of $100 or more. For a second offense, you have a fine of at least $250. Keep in mind that these are just the minimums. The court is allowed to fine you further if desired. Since this offense endangers children, judges take it very seriously. It is very common for them to assign higher-than-normal fines.
In addition to fines, the law also lets the court sentence offenders to up to 15 days in jail or 15 days of community service. Each offense also puts five points on your license. If you accumulate over six points in three years, you have to pay extra fines. If you reach 12 points total, your license will be suspended. Therefore, violating school bus safety guidelines can lead to you losing your license. Furthermore, the points and tickets can end up causing unpleasant increases in insurance rates.
Other School Bus Safety Considerations to Know About
New Jersey laws only focus on what drivers are required to do when a school bus stops to let a child on or off the bus. However, that is not the only thing you need to pay attention to. As a driver, you always have a duty to be reasonably cautious. When you are near a school bus filled with children, you need to practice basic driver safety, such as:
- Observing the speed limit when driving near a school bus
- Not tailgating a bus because it is following the speed limit
- Being aware of school zones and slowing to the new speed limit when necessary
- Not running red lights, stop signs or any other traffic signals
- Exercising appropriate caution before attempting to pass a moving school bus
- Not driving across the road when children are in it even if the bus driver failed to turn on the flashing red lights
Not following these rules can injure others, and it may make you liable for certain types of lawsuits.
Improper School Bus Passing May Result in More Than Just Fines
Most of the standard fines and jail time you may get for improperly passing a school bus apply to situations in which no one was hurt. However, if a driver is negligent and hurts someone after failing to observe school bus safety rules, the consequences are even more severe. In this sort of situation, the driver may end up facing both criminal charges and a personal injury lawsuit. Even if the driver did not technically break school bus laws, not observing basic caution around a school bus can still result in a lawsuit from a motor vehicle accident attorney.
A personal injury lawsuit originates from one person sustaining an injury due to another’s inappropriate behavior. In many cases, lawsuits are filed due to a driver hitting a bus and causing an accident. However, it is also possible for lawsuits to involve things like a driver hitting a pedestrian. In many cases of school bus lawsuits, the situation, unfortunately, involves a driver injuring or killing a child.
Usually, the driver in a bus accident lawsuit is sued by the parents on behalf of their child. However, once the child turns 18, he or she may also choose to sue. In this sort of lawsuit, the claimants can ask for compensation for a variety of reasons. The most straightforward compensation you may request is for medical bills. However, you can also ask to be compensated for things such as:
- Lost wages from a job you gave up to care for your child
- Lost earning potential if your child is permanently disabled
- Compensation for general pain and suffering
- Expenses to modify your home to care for your child
- Therapy expenses to help with trauma and grief
- Educational costs due to your child having to repeat a school year
If you suspect that poor driving led to a school bus accident, it may be a good idea to seek legal help. The motor vehicle accident attorneys at RAM Law are happy to discuss your case with you from our New Brunswick and Somerville offices. We can help you figure out whether the at-fault driver was negligent and assist you with filing a lawsuit. Schedule your consultation now by calling us (732) 394-1549 or by filling out our contact form.