Avoiding Accidents in School Zones
The pandemic has given this school year a “start and stop” feel to it. It inspired the Joseph Joy and Associates personal injury legal team to emphasize what drivers must do when encountering a school bus or while driving in a school zone in Louisiana.
Some students are going to school for in-classroom teaching while others are learning at home. One thing we know for sure – it does not matter where the learning takes place, motorists in Lafayette and surrounding Acadiana parishes need to abide by traffic laws governing school zones and school busses.
Please be extra vigilant while driving in school zones, especially in the morning at the start of the school day and when school lets out. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Among the 264 school-age fatalities between 2008 and 2017, more school-age pedestrians were killed from 7 to 7:59 a.m., and from 3 to 3:59 p.m. than any other hours of the day. There were nearly two times more fatalities among occupants of other vehicles (100) than occupants of school transportation vehicles (61).”
During those time periods, there are more young people in the vicinity of vehicles, whether as passengers or drivers themselves. Parents should talk to their teen drivers to make sure they are operating their vehicles with safety in mind, especially if they are transporting passengers.
Louisiana traffic laws require that the driver of a vehicle, upon a highway meeting or overtaking from any direction, any school bus that has stopped to pick up or drop off any school children shall stop not less than thirty feet from the school bus.
By law, the driver of the school bus must activate its signs and signals when the bus is stopped or is about to stop on the roadway for the purpose of receiving or discharging school children. All drivers are familiar with the flashing lights deployed by school busses as they come to a stop.
Even if the bus is not receiving or dropping off school children, the signals must still be activated if it meets or is following another bus that has such signs and signals activated.*
The National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration’s “flashing signal light system” alerts motorists of what to expect from school busses:
- Yellow flashing lights indicate the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. Motorists should slow down and prepare to stop their vehicles.
- Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate the bus has stopped and children are getting on or off. Motorists must stop their cars and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop-arm is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving before they can start driving again.
Did you realize that school bus drivers can report any motorists who fail to heed their warnings? There is a process in place and provides for penalties that escalate if someone is injured or killed by the driver’s failure to obey the school bus signals.
Louisiana DOTD urges motorists to adhere to the following school zone safety tips:
- Obey all speed limit signs in and around school zones.
- Watch for school buses, and stop for them when their red lights are flashing.
- Be on the lookout for children walking or riding bicycles.
- Don’t stop on crosswalks.
- Obey crossing guards on crosswalks.
- Don’t be distracted by cellphones or other electronic devices.
- Follow the school’s traffic pattern for dropping off and picking up children.
Not only it is against Louisiana law to pass a school bus in a school zone, drivers cannot pass and any other vehicles in a school zone:
RS 32:77.1 – School zones; no passing zones
- 77.1. School zones; no passing zones
- The driver of a vehicle upon a two-lane highway or street shall not overtake and pass another vehicle during posted hours within a school zone.
- Any person who violates this Section shall be subject to the following penalties:
(1) Upon conviction for a first offense, the person shall be issued a written warning.
(2) Upon conviction for a second offense, the person shall be fined one hundred dollars.
(3) Upon conviction for a third offense, the person shall be fined two hundred fifty dollars.
Acts 2008, No. 757, §1, eff. June 1, 2009; Acts 2009, No. 224, §7, eff. June 1, 2009.
Suffice it to say, Louisiana law protects our children in school zones and drivers must slow down to the posted speed limit and always heed the flashing lights and stop signs of a school bus. State and federal regulations have designed school buses to be safer than other vehicles. By equipping school buses with flashing red lights, specifications as to size, height and color, cross view mirrors, stop sign arms and laws, protective seating, rollover protection and high-crush standards, big yellow school buses are supposed to be built for safety.
In addition, the law imposes high standards upon school bus operators. Bus drivers should be trained in student behavior management, be randomly tested for drugs and alcohol, undergo frequent driving record checks and know safety, security and emergency medical procedures.
Always be careful while driving and keep an eye out for students, pedestrians, school busses and other vehicles in the highly protected area of school zones. If you or a loved one suffers a personal injury in a school zone due to someone else’s negligence, call the car accident attorneys at Joseph Joy and Associates for a free consultation.
TITLE 32 – Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulation*
RS 32:80 – Overtaking and passing school buses
A.(1) The driver of a vehicle upon a highway meeting or overtaking from any direction any school bus that has stopped for the purpose of receiving or discharging any school children shall stop the vehicle not less than thirty feet from the school bus before reaching such school bus when there are in operation on said school bus visual signals as required by R.S. 32:318, and said driver shall not proceed until such bus resumes motion or the visual signals are no longer activated.
(2) The driver of any school bus is authorized to notify the appropriate law enforcement authority of any violation of this Subsection within twenty-four hours of the violation. This notification shall be in writing on a form provided to the bus driver by the school board, shall be signed by the school bus driver, under penalty of criminal prosecution, in the presence of two witnesses, and it shall include the license plate number and color of the vehicle. The notice may be sent to the appropriate law enforcement agency by mail, fax, or electronically. If mailed, the notice shall be deemed timely if postmarked the day after the violation.
(3) The appropriate authority may issue a citation to the owner or, in the case of a leased vehicle, the lessee of the vehicle involved, on the basis of this information. The owner or lessee shall not be cited if the vehicle is stolen, or if another driver is cited for the violation.
(4)(a) Any person who is found guilty of or pleads guilty or nolo contendere to a violation of the provisions of this Subsection shall be subject to the following penalties:
(i) If the violation does not result in the injury, serious bodily injury, or death of another person, the offender shall be fined not less than one hundred dollars nor more than five hundred dollars or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both, in accordance with the provisions of R.S. 32:398.2 and shall have his driver’s license suspended in accordance with the provisions of R.S. 32:414(A)(2).
(ii) If the violation results in the injury of another person, the offender shall be fined not less than two hundred dollars nor more than five hundred dollars and may be subjected to a driver’s license suspension for a period up to ninety days, or both.
(iii) If the violation results in the serious bodily injury of another person, the offender shall be fined not less than five hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars and may be subjected to a driver’s license suspension of a period up to one hundred eighty days, or both.
(iv) If the violation results in the death of another person, the offender shall be fined not less than one thousand dollars nor more than five thousand dollars and may be subjected to a driver’s license suspension for the greater of a period up to three hundred sixty days or as provided in R.S. 32:414(A)(2), or both.
(b) In addition to the fines and penalties set forth in Items (a)(ii), (iii), and (iv) of this Paragraph, whoever is responsible for these violations shall be subject to the following penalties:
(i) If the violation results in the injury of another person, the offender may be imprisoned for not more than six months.
(ii) If the violation results in serious bodily injury of another person as defined in Subparagraph (c) of this Paragraph, the offender may be subjected to imprisonment up to six months.
(iii) If the violation results in the death of another person, the offender may be subject to imprisonment up to twelve months.
(c) For purposes of this Paragraph, “serious bodily injury” shall mean a bodily injury which involves unconsciousness, extreme physical pain, or protracted and obvious disfigurement, protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty, or a substantial risk of death.
B.(1) Every school bus used for the transportation of school children shall bear upon the front and rear thereof the words “SCHOOL BUS” in black letters not less than eight inches in height placed as high as possible without impairment of visibility, and no other lettering shall be visible from the front or rear except the words “emergency exit” shall be painted in black letters at least two inches in height and approximately located near such exit.
(2)(a) In addition, every school bus shall be equipped with visual signs and signals as required in R.S. 32:318. Such signs and signals shall be activated by the driver of said school bus under and only under one of the following conditions:
(i) Such vehicle is stopped or is about to stop on the roadway for the purpose of receiving or discharging school children.
(ii) Though not receiving or discharging school children, the bus is stopped or is about to stop because it meets or is following another bus that has such signs and signals activated.
(b) The driver of any school bus equipped only with signal lamps as provided in R.S. 32:318(B)(1) shall activate such lamps at least one hundred feet, but not more than five hundred feet, before every stop for which activation is required and upon stopping shall exhibit the semaphore sign or signs provided for in R.S. 32:318(B)(2) and upon resuming motion shall deactivate both the lamps and the semaphore sign or signs. The driver of any school bus equipped with signal lamps as provided in R.S. 32:318(B)(4) shall activate the yellow (amber) lights at least one hundred feet, but not more than five hundred feet, before every stop for which activation is required, shall deactivate these lamps upon stopping, shall exhibit the red flashing lamps and semaphore sign or signs while stopped, and upon resuming motion shall deactivate both the lamps and the semaphore sign or signs.
- 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.
- When, if, and on the date that the Department of Transportation and Development develops, adopts, and promulgates guidelines to establish school bus loading zones pursuant to Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 9 of the 1983 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature, the requirements of Subsection A of this Section regarding a vehicle stopping on a highway when meeting or overtaking a school bus and regarding the driver of a school bus activating the visual signs and signals shall be effective when a school bus stops on the shoulder of a highway for the purpose of receiving or discharging any school children as provided in the guidelines.