LANSING (WWJ) – As children return to school, Michigan State Police are urging motorists to know the rules of the road, as they pertain to school buses.

The red flashing lights and extended stop arm of a school bus indicate children are getting on or off. Michigan law requires motorists to stop and wait until the red lights stop flashing and the extended stop sign is withdrawn before driving past the school bus.

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New laws took effect July 1, 2001 that increase the penalties for motorists who fail to exercise caution in school bus safety zones. The new laws double the fines for moving violations committed in a school bus safety zone and make it a misdemeanor for injuring and a felony for killing a child getting on or off a school bus.

WWJ’s Rob Sanford said the catalyst for the proposal was an Oakland County traffic accident that involved a near fatality of a child. At the time, all police could do to the driver was take three points off his license and charge a $250 fine.

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In a one-day, 28-state survey conducted earlier this year by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, an estimated 76,000 vehicles illegally passed a school bus. In Michigan, 8,500 school buses participated in the survey; 1,771 vehicles illegally passed a school bus with 936 incidents.

Parents are also encouraged to remind children about safety while waiting for the bus and walking to school.

When entering and exiting a school bus, children need to be aware of the School Bus Danger Zones, which extend 10 feet from the bus in all directions. When leaving the bus, children should walk 10 feet away from the bus before turning. Children crossing in front of the bus should move forward away from the bus until they can make eye contact with the driver, and they should never cross without the driver’s permission.

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Some other school bus safety tips include:

  • Have a safe place to wait for the bus, away from traffic and the street.
  • Do not run or play near the roadway while waiting for the bus.
  • Make sure to always remain in clear view of the bus driver. Never go behind the bus.
  • Stay away from the bus until it comes to a complete stop and the driver signals you to enter.
  • Do not talk to strangers. Tell your parents or a trusted adult if a stranger tries to talk to you.