Watch for flashing lights and extended stop sign arms

School bus drivers in Delaware are on high alert after an Indiana motorist passed a stopped school bus, striking and killing three children recently.

“It is extremely important to follow school bus traffic laws, for the safety of our students,” said Sherry Greener, a bus driver in the Cape Henlopen School District.

Drivers can help prevent tragedies by being attentive around school buses and bus stops. Students are especially vulnerable when crossing the road to and from the bus.

“Most of the children who lose their lives in bus-related crashes are pedestrians, many hit by motorists illegally passing stopped buses,” Delaware State Police said in a recent statement.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, 500,000 school buses carrying more than 25 million students take to the roads almost daily. In Delaware, that translates to 130,000 students on 1,800 buses.

In 2017, there were 72 fatal crashes involving school buses nationwide, resulting in the death of four students. There’s no shortage of bus crashes in the First State, but according to Delaware State Police, no students have been killed in recent years.

In March, a school bus driver struck three pedestrians in Bear, but no children were on board. In May, a school bus aide was killed in a Frankford crash. In June, a bus overturned in Middletown, injuring two students.

Each year, Delaware public school bus drivers conduct a one-day survey of vehicles that pass them illegally, when the bus’s overhead red lights are flashing and its stop arm extended. On May 4, 2018, 1,108 bus drivers reported 572 illegal passes, eight of which occurred on the right side. About 300 of those illegal passes were made by drivers approaching from behind the bus. The majority of illegal passes took place during the morning hours.

“So far this year, I’ve had three cars try to pass my bus,” Greener said. “Blowing my horn and sticking my hand out the window got them to stop right alongside the bus. Fortunately, no students were crossing the roadway at the time.”

A refresher: school bus drivers will activate their amber flashing lights when they are getting ready to stop. Upon stopping, the overhead flashing lights will turn red and the STOP arm will extend. At this point, it is illegal to pass the school bus on any two-lane road, from either direction. With four or more lanes, drivers approaching from the front may keep going.

Passing a school bus with its red lights flashing and stop sign arm extended is punishable by a $115-$230 fine or 30–60 days in prison. If it happens more than once within three years, the fine can go up to $575 and the prison sentence to six months. Any time someone is convicted of passing a stopped school bus, their license is suspended for a period of between one month and one year.

"We are transporting the most precious cargo of all: your children!" Greener said. "Please be extra cautious, aware and most of all patient when you see school buses and children on our roadways."