Rules for When School Buses Return to the Roads

It’s almost time to return to school! As you squeeze in one last road trip and run some maintenance checks on your vehicle to get it ready for the new season, now’s a good time to brush up on your knowledge of how to share the road with school buses.

There aren’t many road rules, but they’re extremely important to the safety of those getting on and off the bus.

When a School Bus is Moving

In Ontario, you’ll be able to spot school buses by their bright yellow paint and black detailing. When a bus is moving, share the road with it the same way you would any large vehicle. Keep in mind, because of their size, buses will need some extra space to make wider turns.

If the bus slows down, look to see if its overhead lights are flashing. This indicates that the bus is preparing to stop to board or unload passengers.

Note: this September, a new eight-light system is being introduced. New amber-yellow lights will flash to warn drivers that it will soon stop. The lights will flash red when the bus comes to a complete stop.

If you’re driving on a road with no median (a raised barrier that divides lanes), you’ll need to prepare to stop when the bus does.

When a School Bus Has Stopped

Country asphalt road with school bus coming.

If you’re behind or facing a school bus that’s stopped on a road with no median, look for flashing lights and/or a raised stop sign arm. If you see these, you must stop until the bus has retracted the stop sign, stopped flashing its lights, and started moving again.

When stopping, keep a distance of at least 20 metres between your vehicle and the bus if you’re behind it. If you’re facing the bus, stop at a safe distance to allow passengers room to cross the road in front of your vehicle, if needed.

If there is a raised median between the lanes, you may continue driving if you’re going in the opposite direction of the bus. If you’re behind the bus, follow the same rules as if there were no median.

Penalties for Not Following These Road Rules

If you fail to abide by these rules, not only do you risk endangering school bus passengers and others around you, you’ll also be subject to some hefty penalties.

If you continue driving past a bus with an extended stop sign and/or flashing red lights on a road with no median or if you’re behind the bus, you can be fined anywhere between $400 to $2,000. You may also receive six demerit points, which will stay on your driving record for two years. If you accumulate 15 demerit points, your licence will be suspended for 30 days.

After your first offence driving past a stopped bus, for all following offences, you can be fined $1,000 to $4,000, receive six demerit points, and face the possibility of up to six months in jail.

Depending on the severity of the offence (e.g., if you harm passengers or pedestrians), you can be charged with various offences. These can include criminal negligence causing bodily harm, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm, and careless driving—resulting in more fines or extended jail time.

If you witness someone disregarding these rules, you can report the incident to your local police department or the OPP.

As of September 2020, the majority of Ontario school buses are equipped with a camera on the stop sign arm to catch vehicles in these scenarios. So, even if no one else is around, you will be caught for this offence.

You can choose to take a detour when you see a school bus to avoid having to stop for it, but you cannot drive past it when it is picking up or dropping off passengers (except as described above).

Keeping the Roads Safe

The rules and penalties around sharing the road with school buses are strict to protect you and others from accidents. These rules may differ between provinces, so be sure to check the appropriate way to share the road with school buses if you travel outside of Ontario. You can find all this information on official Canadian government websites.

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