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When Do You Have to Stop for a School Bus?

By April 19, 2021June 17th, 2021Insurance

The design of the road determines when you need to stop for a school bus in Washington state.

Many schools are back in session at least part time for in-person classes now that COVID-19 has a vaccine, and many areas are in Phase 3. You know what that means—school buses are starting to make a comeback on the streets…And, it has been a while.

Once you see one for the first time in over a year, it can be a little daunting to remember all the laws when a school bus stops. What do you do if a bus stops on a 3+ lane road? Do you need to stop when there is only flashing yellow lights on the school bus? When should you start moving again after stopping for a school bus?

All great questions. We have gathered bullet-points and created an infographic to give you a quick rundown on what to do if you live in Washington state! Live in another state? No problem! has a list of bus laws in different states.

When should you stop for a school bus in Washington state?

  • The Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) says that you must stop for a school bus when red lights are flashing.
  • Please note that other lights on the bus can flash red. The red stop sign does not necessarily have to be out yet for red lights to flash.
  • If you are on the same side of the road, the opposite side of the road, or you are approaching the same intersection, be prepared to stop.

The WA DOL says that the only times you are not required to stop is when the bus is traveling the opposite direction as you and:

  • The road has 3 or more marked traffic lanes,
  • You are separated by a median, and/or
  • You are separated by a physical barrier

Below is an infographic showing examples of when you should stop for a school bus in the state of Washington. You can view and download the PDF here.

NOTE: If you are traveling to a different state(s), Mosaic Insurance recommends that you review the policies for those states you will be in. For example, Oregon is close to Washington and easily within road trip proximity. Many people in Washington travel to Oregon state for short road trips, vacations, and business. Washington allows you to not have to stop for a school bus if you are driving the opposite direction on a 3+ lane road (see the 3 exceptions above). However, unlike Washington, Oregon says that you must stop if you are going the opposite direction on a 3+ lane road and there is not an unpaved median strip or barrier between you and the bus that creates two separate roads.

What should you do when you need to stop for a Washington school bus?
  • If you are in a lane that needs to stop for a school bus, you must stop when you see red lights flash and/or the extended stop sign.
  • Keep in mind that flashing yellow lights indicate that the bus is preparing to stop, so all other drivers should be prepared to stop as well.
  • If you think a bus is going to stop soon (i.e., kids standing down the road), keep your distance and get ready to stop when needed.
  • You can continue moving again after the red lights stop flashing and the stop sign goes in, or after the bus starts moving again, according to
  • When you start driving again, be cautious for pedestrians.
  • King5 has a video with examples of when you should stop for a Washington school bus.
What else should you be aware of when school buses are on the road?
  • WA DOL mentions that you should never pass a stopped school bus on the right-hand side of the road.
  • When driving behind a school bus, Top Driver recommends that drivers should maintain at least 3 car lengths between themselves and the bus.
  • Top Driver also recommends for drivers to be no closer than 10-20 feet from a stopped school bus.
  • Keep in mind that kids sometimes walk between parked cars.
  • Watch for pedestrians even in the morning hours after kids are picked up. Many times, parents will take their kids to the bus stop in the morning and then walk back home.
  • Kids have been known to return to the school bus after unloading. Be patient and alert.
  • WA DOL says to proceed driving after lights have stopped flashing and children have completely left the roadway.
  • Be very alert in school zones and areas that children are known to frequent, especially right after school is released (areas close to schools, neighborhoods with lots of kids, near public parks, etc.).

School buses (and transit vehicles) are required to stop and open doors to determine a clear roadway before crossing train tracks. In Washington, these vehicles must stop 15-50 feet from the nearest rail, according to The Washington State Legislator.

  • If you are behind a school bus or transit vehicle that is approaching a train crossing, it is recommended that you keep a good distance from the bus and proceed after the bus has crossed.
  • Be very mindful of intersections where the bus will take up most or all of the clearing before the train tracks. (You do not want to get stopped in the middle of the intersection, especially when the lights change.)
How much is a Washington School Bus Ticket?
  • If you fail to stop legally for a school bus in the state of Washington, you can easily be looking at a $500 fine according to The Seattle Times.
  • Not only are tickets from not properly stopping for a school bus expensive, they also highly negatively impact your driving record and insurance premium for numerous years.
  • Additionally, Washington school bus tickets cannot be waived, reduced, or suspended, according to WA DOL.

Tickets and tainted records are not fun. Plus, the safety of children is at stake when you do not properly yield. It is in everyone’s best interest for drivers to be alert and patient—let the school bus do it’s thing, and then you can continue on with your day.

If you are ever curious about specifics of Washington state driving laws, you can get a nice refresher from the Washington Drivers Guide. For other state driving guides, has up-to-date guides for all 50 states that you can read in the web browser or download as a PDF for future use. (A great resource for student drivers, and for you as well before you take any trips away from home!)

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