Today’s lesson: School’s back, drive aware


NEXT TUESDAY, STUDENTS in all area schools will be back in school.

Streets and roads will be filled with children walking, riding bicycles or riding school buses to and from school, which creates more for all drivers to be aware of.

That means not just being aware of the frequent stops and starts school buses make, but also of the children getting on and off the bus.

“Children aren’t always thinking about their own safety, so drivers need to be alert and cautious at all times,” said Capt. Ryan Chaffee of the Wisconsin State Patrol Northeast Region – Fond du Lac Post. “This includes being ready to stop when school buses load and unload passengers, and to watch for children who are walking or biking.”

School bus laws

Wisconsin law requires drivers to stop at least 20 feet from a stopped school bus that has its red warning lights flashing. The law applies when approaching a school bus from either direction. The only exception is if you are traveling on the other side of a divided roadway separated by a median or other physical barrier.

When passed illegally, school bus drivers are authorized to report violations to law enforcement. If a citation is issued, the vehicle owner can be held responsible, even if they weren’t the offending driver. A citation for failure to stop for a school bus costs $326.

Under a year-old state law, Wisconsin school buses built after January 1, 2005 must also be fitted with amber lights. When flashing, the amber lights mean drivers should slow down because the red flashing lights will soon be activated and the bus is about to stop. Drivers can carefully pass a school bus with amber lights activated, but should never speed up to pass.

Pedestrian laws

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 is 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; and

• Whenever directed to stop by a school crossing guard. Like bus drivers, crossing guards have the authority to report violations to law enforcement.

Depending on the specific violation, drivers who fail to yield the right of way to pedestrians that are legally crossing a roadway can receive a citation ranging from $175 to $326.

Bicycling laws

When passing a bicyclist traveling in the same direction, motor vehicle operators must leave at least three feet of clearance and maintain this safety zone until safely past the bicycle. Violating state law that requires drivers to overtake and pass bicyclists safely can result in a $200 citation.

“Our goal is not simply to write citations, but to help motorists and other travelers understand and abide by the laws that are designed to protect us all,” Chaffee said.

It should be common sense and courtesy to follow these laws but it seems to be 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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