TAWAS CITY – With the start of the new school year underway, there will soon be a lot more buses on the roads – and Jo Allen, Iosco Regional Educational Service Agency Transportation Director, is urging the public to be alert and keep safety in mind.

She states that bus transportation is a significant part of going back to school and, with reports of children getting hit crossing the road and people running the red lights of a school bus, she has provided the districts in Iosco County with flyers to distribute to students to take home.

“The parents of the students are not the only ones that we have to educate on the school bus lights,” pointed out Allen, who is also a representative of the Training Agency Association of Michigan.

“As you can see there are the typical red light stops and more and more districts are using the ‘hazard light’ stops. More districts would use these but they say they are confusing to the general public so we are working on educating the public,” she continued.

Based on the information provided by Allen, one way to remember the procedure when stopping for a school bus is to consider the fact that these vehicles are like traffic signals.

As noted by the Michigan State Police, there are three main points which drivers should keep in mind:

• When a school bus’s overhead lights (near the roof, on both sides of the word “School Bus”) are flashing yellow, prepare to stop.

• When the overhead lights are flashing red, drivers must stop no less than 20 feet from the bus.

• When a school bus’s hazard warning lights (lower on the bus, likely mounted over the front wheel wells) are flashing, then drivers may proceed with caution.

Michigan law regarding passing a school bus is also outlined in the flyer, and reads as follows:

“The operator of a vehicle overtaking or meeting a school bus that has stopped and is displaying two alternately flashing red lights located at the same level shall bring the vehicle to a full stop not less than 20 feet from the school bus and shall not proceed until the school bus resumes motion or the visual signals are no longer actuated.” (MCL 257.682(1)).

Allen also shared details associated with Michigan’s Pupil Transportation Act, which puts very specific criteria on the placement and use of “hazard warning light” school bus stops. These types of stops provide a low-risk option to administrators when a red light stop is not legal or safe.

According to the information provided by Allen, the hazard warning light stop is not a routine or usual school bus stop procedure. It is an option for school districts to implement when faced with unusually high-risk situations. A couple of situations are issues that, in the past, were dangerous for children and illegal for school buses.

As outlined in the flyer, a child with special needs often takes more time to get on or off a school bus. It may take a school bus driver three to five minutes to load or unload a wheelchair bound child. Requiring motorists to wait that long when the school bus can stop out of the flow of traffic is not practical. In fact, motorists will not wait that long and the red light stop puts the most vulnerable schoolchildren at greater risk.

In a situation where a child lives in an unusual geographical environment and a red light bus stop is not legal, Allen says the child could walk along a dangerous roadway to a legal red light school bus stop – or there is the alternative of getting the school bus completely off the roadway in front of the student’s house, allowing traffic to pass, and picking up/dropping off the child.

According to Allen, such a stop does not pose a threat to the school bus or traffic around the bus, and it makes parents a lot less anxious.

School bus stops on high traffic roads are also a safety issue in the world of distracted driving, she continued, and hazard light stops are safer for both the children and the general public.