It's been 18 months since some New Jersey residents have had to follow or stop for a school bus while on the road.

As kids head into a fully in-person academic year, you're being advised to know the rules of the road as they relate to school transportation vehicles. Not knowing them could put a kid's life at risk, cost you some money, and damage your driving record.

"Please be aware of the yellow school bus, and stop for the stop sign and stop for the warning lights, and watch for kids moving around it," said Evie Wills, administrator of the New Jersey School Bus Contractors Association.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, from 2007 to 2016, there were 281 school-age children killed in school transportation-related crashes. Ninety-eight of those victims were pedestrians.

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It's the law

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"25 feet away from the bus is closer to safety," says a brochure produced by New Jersey and U.S. officials.

If you're not on a roadway that separates you and the bus's path with some type of physical barrier, you are supposed to stop at least 25 feet from a stopped school bus with flashing red lights, whether you're driving in the same direction as the bus or not.

Even if you're on the opposite side of a divided highway, you have to drive 10 mph when approaching a stopped school bus.

Motorists must drive no faster than 10 mph past a school bus that's picking up or letting off students at school (or camp or related activity), given the destination is on the same side of the road as the bus.

School bus drivers are required to use flashing red lights when their bus is stopped to drop off or pick up students.

Drivers who disobey the rules can expect five points on their license for each offense. A driver who was found to be passing a school bus with its red lights on will be fined no less than $100 for a first offense. A second offense comes with a fine of no less than $250.

Jail time or community service is a possibility for improperly passing a school bus in New Jersey.

“Drivers are out of practice when it comes to the rules of the roads with school buses and students walking and biking to school,” said Tracy Noble, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “While the return to school and our roads will look different this year, our responsibility for keeping students safe hasn’t changed.”

With the lingering coronavirus pandemic, there could be a few wild cards adding to the risk during the 2021-22 school year, AAA noted. They include:

  • Staggered schedules and social distancing could mean more school buses on the roads to transport students.
  • Some parents may opt to transport their children to and from school, avoiding the school bus ride but increasing the volume of vehicles during drop-off and pickup.
  • More students may take to walking or biking to school, increasing foot and bike traffic close to schools.

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