Passing a school bus with its red lights activated is not a good idea.
Young children may be running to or from that bus.
"All roadways are frequented by police for enforcement of school bus safety enforcement," Conewango Township Police Officer Charlie Andersen said. "Township police are diligent in enforcing the law for the safety of school buses and its occupants both mornings and afternoons. We ask that motorists use caution when school buses are present to ensure the safety of the children."
Times Observer photo by Rob Andersen
Children dart from a school bus on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Beech Street in Warren. Reports have been made of a number of motorists passing buses stopped with flashing red lights, and several police agencies have isssued tickets.
An offending driver faces serious consequences. The penalties for violating the Pennsylvania School Bus Stopping Law include a $250 fine, a 60-day license suspension, and five points.
"We have been receiving complaints from several bus drivers in town about people who are passing stopped school buses loading children," City of Warren Police Sgt. Brandon Deppen said. "A driver may only proceed after the lights have turned off and the stop sign and extended arm have retracted."
In the city, most of the complaints have come from drivers at intersections.
"The majority of the violations seem to be occurring when the bus is stopped at an intersection loading or unloading children," Deppen said. "By state law all vehicles must stop when a school bus has activated the eight-way red lights and engaged the stop sign and bar. No vehicle is allowed to enter the intersection or turn in the intersection while the bus has the lights activated."
"Some of the violations occur when the bus is stopped at the intersection and a vehicle stops at a stop sign and then proceeds to turn away from the stopped bus," he said. "This is still a violation since the bus has control of the intersection."
Another situation where drivers commonly violate the law is on four-lane highways.
According to the law, regardless of how many lanes there are, traffic may not pass a bus that has its red lights activated.
"We have cited people recently in Starbrick and North Warren on the four-lane," Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Jen Bovee said. "People think they don't have to stop for the school bus stopped in the opposed lane because of the median. All traffic is required to stop in both directions for the safety of the bus and its passengers. "
"The Conewango Township Police does encounter problems with illegal passing of school buses mainly on Routes 6 and 62," Andersen said. "Frequently, motorists traveling in the opposing direction do not stop. However, by law they must stop because there is no physical barrier dividing the highways."
Physical barriers present an exception to the rule.
"If physical barriers such as grassy medians, guide rails, or concrete median barriers separate oncoming traffic from the bus, motorists in the opposing lanes may proceed without stopping," according to PennDOT.
"A gravel or dirt median is not considered a divider," Andersen said.
Drivers who have been passing the same bus stops for years may have seen some recent changes.
"The Warren County School District has been optimizing its bus routes over the past few years, resulting in the consolidation of some routes and stops," district Transportation Manager Mike Kiehl said. "Some of the new bus stops are serving larger numbers of students, and it is not uncommon to see students running from many directions at the bus stop while loading and unloading."
"These can be busy places for our students," Kiehl said. "It's important that all drivers take extra caution around school buses especially when the eight-way red lights are flashing."
A summary of the law according to PennDOT:
Motorists must stop at least 10 feet away from school buses that have their red lights flashing and stop arm extended.
Motorists must stop when they are behind a bus, meeting the bus or approaching an intersection where a bus is stopped.
Motorists following or traveling alongside a school bus must also stop until the red lights have stopped flashing, the stop arm is withdrawn, and all children have reached safety.
If physical barriers such as grassy medians, guide rails or concrete median barriers separate oncoming traffic from the bus, motorists in the opposing lanes may proceed without stopping.
Do not proceed until all the children have reached a place of safety.