RE: 2 TV reports on passing school buses with red lights flashing

The in basket: KIRO-TV news did a segment recently on the Highline School District’s deployment of cameras on the sides of its school buses to capture images of drivers who ignore the flashing red lights and extended STOP paddle when a bus is loading or off-loading children. Costly citations are to follow.

A good thing, I would say, especially noting a subsequent TV report of a white SUV filmed while  actually passing a Bethel School District bus on the right without slowing down as three children walked toward the bus. It nearly hit them. Such indifference to student safety is inexcusable and a hunt is on for that driver.

Surveys suggest that drivers ignore the flashing lights and extended paddles of school buses hundreds of times each school day throughout the state. I was dubious about a claim that many of those infractions involve passing the bus on the right (most of those are bicyclists, I think) but the video of the Bethel incident shows that it does happen with cars, as far-fetched as it sounds.

But, back to KIRO’s report on Highline’s plans. It made what I consider a significant mistake. TV news being what it is, desperate for an image to fill our screens, KIRO chose one that misrepresents the law requiring drivers to stop for the buses.

It depicted cars streaming past an extended STOP paddle, visible on the right of the screen, going in the opposite direction of the bus. In between, is an empty lane.

The clear implication was that the drivers shown were violating the law. But they weren’t.

State law says “The driver of a vehicle upon a highway with three or more marked traffic lanes need not stop upon meeting a school bus which is proceeding in the opposite direction and is stopped for the purpose of receiving or discharging school children.”

You have to stop for a school bus with its red lights flashing and its STOP paddle out only if you’re following the bus, or going the opposite direction on a two-lane road.

At least legally that’s the case. As a practical matter, you’ll probably have to stop because some driver ahead of you usually stops and there’s usually no way around that car or the cars lined up behind it. So many drivers are unsure of the law that you almost never get to exercise it unless you’re first or nearly first in line.

So I hate to see the media further decrease the chances that drivers will do what’s permitted. School bus routes are crafted so drivers can’t and don’t let students cross more than one lane to the left of the bus anyway.

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