Now that the kids are back to school, the Peoria Times would like to take the opportunity to remind drivers of all the traffic laws and safety protocols that surround school zones and school buses.

According to the Glendale Union High School District’s website, school buses are nearly 2,000 times safer than the family car. The school bus occupant fatality rate of 0.2 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled is lower than the rates for passenger cars (1.5) or light trucks and vans (1.3). However, pedestrian fatalities — those occurring while loading and unloading school buses — account for approximately three times as many school bus-related fatalities when compared to school bus occupant fatalities.

Red means stop

When the bus driver turns on the yellow flashing lights, it means the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload students. Drivers traveling in either direction should slow down and prepare to stop.

When the bus driver turns on the red flashing lights and activates the extended stop arm, it means the bus has stopped, and that children are getting on or off. Drivers heading in either direction must stop and wait until the red lights stop flashing and the extended stop arm is deactivated before they can proceed.

Glendale Elementary School District Director of Finance and Purchasing Valerie Caraveo, who is also a previous transportation director, said unfortunately, drivers committing traffic violations around school buses is an issue.

“That is an issue, unfortunately, throughout the year, whether it’s the beginning of the school year or towards the end, people are in a hurry to get to work and whatnot, so they do tend to violate the stop arm,” Caraveo said, adding that bus drivers write down the license plate numbers of violators and give them to the Department of Public Safety, which typically issues the drivers warnings.

The exception to the rule is when a raised median is present.

“You are not required to stop for a school bus on a divided roadway when traveling in the opposite direction,” Glendale police said. “A divided roadway is one in which the road is separated by physical barriers such as a fence, curbing or separation of the pavement.”

School bus drivers are required by law to stop at all railroad crossings. When they do, they will activate the hazard warning lights.

“Certain vehicles are required to stop prior to crossing a railroad track, said Sgt. John Roth, Glendale Police Department public information officer. “These vehicles normally have the warnings affixed to the rear of the vehicle to alert those around them to be prepared for sudden stops.”

If there are no traffic signals alerting drivers to stop for an approaching train, normal traffic may safely proceed across the tracks, Roth said.

“As a general practice, all motorists should be alert and cautious when passing any bus that is stopped in the roadway regardless of the bus driver activating any of the bus’ safety features,” he said.

School zones ahead

School zone speed limits are absolute, they are not suggestions. One mph over the posted speed can result in a ticket. School zones that have fixed speed limit signs are pretty self-explanatory. Drivers should have no confusion as to where the school zone starts and where it ends. One sign blinks, states the speed limit and informs drivers they are entering a school zone. The other sign says, “End school zone.”

But school zones with portable 15-mph signs aren’t as clear. While the starting sign is obvious with its “No passing, 15 mph, fines double …” insignia, the lack of an “End school zone” sign can have motorists scratching their heads. Glendale Elementary School District risk manager Joanna Morse said the school zone ends after drivers have passed the yellow crosswalk.

Another aspect of those signs that can confuse motorists is the verbiage “no passing.” In that instance, no passing means no passing even if there are multiple lanes in the same direction. That means the car in the left lane can’t pass the car in the right lane and vice versa. So if the car in the right lane is doing 5 mph, the car in the left lane better be going 5 mph, as well.

“You cannot pass in the general terms, but in a school zone, passing even in the same direction lanes is prohibited due to the strict speed limit,” said officer Brandon Sheffert, Peoria Police Department public information officer.

Crosswalks differ

Traffic rules differ for school crosswalks, which are painted yellow vs. other crosswalks, which are painted white, Morse said.

“That’s the difference between a white crosswalk,” Morse said, explaining that once pedestrians have cleared the lane in a white crosswalk, the driver can proceed, even while the pedestrians are still in the crosswalk.

“But when it’s a yellow crosswalk, which is a school crosswalk, they cannot cross until everybody is out of that crosswalk completely,” she said.

Sheffert said Peoria police will be paying close attention to school zones during the beginning of the school year and will address issues as they arise throughout the rest of the year.

“The first few weeks of school, our traffic division will be monitoring schools in Peoria on a random basis and will be providing education and enforcement,” he said. “They continually address concerns related to school traffic throughout the school year.”

It all sounds like common sense, but sometimes, people just need to be reminded of the rules and policies, Morse said.

“Just treat every kid like they’re your own.”