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Published: Saturday, 3/26/2005

Drivers obligated to halt for bus stops


Only motorists driving on the opposite side of a multilane, divided highway are excused from stopping for a school bus that is stopped with its flashing red lights on and side-mount stop sign extended.

Otherwise, Ohio law requires all traffic to stop at least 10 feet away from the front or back of a school bus stopped to drop off or pick up passengers, as indicated by its flashing red lights. The only exception applies to divided highways with four lanes or more, in which case vehicles traveling on the opposite side of the roadway don't have to stop.

Michigan law is similar, except that the minimum separation distance is 20 feet instead of 10.

A misdemeanor traffic conviction for passing a school bus is punishable in Ohio by a fine of up to $500. In Michigan, a vehicle's registered owner is subject to a civil fine of between $100 and $500 for an observed violation, and judges may also order violators to serve up to 100 hours of community service at a school.

Toledo police and Ohio State Highway Patrol officials said motorists should always be on alert whenever they see a school bus preparing to stop, because children's behavior can be unpredictable.

"Regardless of how many lanes of travel there are, when those yellow lights go on, everybody's got to be cautious," said Lt. Kevin Keel, head of the Toledo police traffic section. "Kids do things that kids do, and the adult motorist has to use caution."

Motorists "need to expect to stop as soon as they see those yellow lights," agreed Lt. Rick Zwayer, a highway patrol spokesman.

Although all buses are required to display a swinging stop sign in addition to having the flashing lights, the absence of the stop sign does not relieve motorists of the requirement to stop, officials said.

A bus driver's ability to identify vehicles that don't stop for a stopped school bus is among the reasons the state patrol opposes proposed legislation to eliminate front license plates, Lieutenant Zwayer said. He noted it's much easier for a driver to read the front plate on an oncoming vehicle and report it.

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