School’s back in session, pay attention when driving

STUDENTS ARE BACK IN school, learning new things and relearning things they forgot over the summer.

And the same should be true for drivers.

It means drivers have to be aware and pay attention to things they haven’t seen for three months – school buses and children walking or riding bicycles to and from school.

Drivers do have one new thing to learn this school year – most school buses now have flashing amber lights to warn drivers that the bus is about to stop.

“Flashing amber lights are a signal that the school bus is preparing to stop, so drivers need to slow down, pay attention and proceed carefully,” Wisconsin State Patrol Lt. Karl Mittelstadt said in a press release announcing the new state regulation. “Drivers are allowed to pass a moving bus with flashing amber lights, but they should do so cautiously.

“However, once the bus displays flashing red warning lights, drivers both in front of and behind the bus must stop at least 20 feet from the bus and remain stopped until the red lights are turned off or the bus resumes travel. Drivers must stop even if the red stop-sign arm on the side of the bus is not extended,” Mittelstadt continued.

The only exception to this law is a school bus stopped on the other side of a divided roadway, but only if the roadway is divided by a median or other physical barrier.

School bus drivers who see a vehicle pass their stopped bus illegally are authorized to report the violation to a law enforcement agency, which may issue a citation. The owner of the vehicle – whether they were driving it or not – is responsible for paying any fine.

A citation for failure to stop for a school bus costs $326.50 plus costs and fees, with four demerit points.

Aside from school buses, many students get to and from school by walking or riding bicycles. Drivers need to be aware of them as well, along with state law that applies.

For instance, state law requires drivers to yield to pedestrians:

• Who have started crossing an intersection or crosswalk on a walk signal or on a green light if there’s no walk signal.

• Who are crossing the road within a marked or unmarked crosswalk at an intersection where there are no traffic lights or control signals.

• When a vehicle is crossing a sidewalk or entering an alley or driveway.

In addition, drivers may not legally overtake and pass any vehicle that has stopped for pedestrians at an intersection or crosswalk.

Drivers who fail to yield the right of way to pedestrians who are legally crossing roadways may be issued citations that cost approximately $175 to $326 (depending on the type of violation) along with four demerit points on their license. The cost of the citation increases if it’s the second violation within one year. A citation for passing a vehicle that is stopped for pedestrians costs $326.50 with three demerit points.

When drivers are passing bicycles traveling in the same direction, they must leave a safe distance of no less than three feet of clearance and must maintain that clearance until they have safely passed the bicycle.

A violation of the state law that requires drivers to overtake and pass bicyclists safely costs a total of $200.50 with three demerit points. The cost for a second violation within four years increases to $263.50 with three points.

It should be common sense and courtesy to follow these laws, but it’s also a lesson we need to remember and recall every fall.

It requires a little patience, caution and attention on the part of all drivers, but it’s worth it for the sake of the children.

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