Chapel Hill, N.C. (WNCN) – The new school year has kicked off and drivers are being asked to be more aware of increased pedestrian and bus traffic. 

Law enforcement officers and the North Carolina Department of Transportation are urging drivers to be patient on the roads and follow the law, including stopping for school buses when lights are flashing. 

“Our advice is when in doubt, always stop,” said Chapel Hill police lieutenant Todd Harris. 

He said his department will be patrolling around schools and crosswalks to ensure the safety of students this week. 

“The biggest complaint we get is speeding in school zones and traffic build-up in general,” said Harris.

According to the state DOT, there were 770 violations handed out to drivers statewide last year for not yielding to school buses. 

“It’s very concerning. When you have children loading and offloading the bus; the potential of kids being struck by a vehicle is very high”,” said Harris.

North Carolina law states that vehicles traveling behind a stopped school bus must stop. 

“Depending on the type of roadway, the vehicle traveling in the opposite direction doesn’t always have to stop,” said Chapel Hill police lieutenant Todd Harris.

graphic of when you need to stop for a school bus.

He said if it’s a multi-lane road, opposite moving vehicles are free to go. However, things get a little tricky when the road has a median with turn lanes. State law requires vehicles to stop in this scenario. 

What if you are traveling on a single-lane road in both directions? 

Everyone, including opposite moving traffic, is required to stop for stopped school buses. 

“If they see a bus, go ahead and prepare that they will be stopping soon,” Chapel Hill police lieutenant Todd Harris said, “when you see that yellow flashing and red flashing lights, just stop.”

Yellow flashing lights indicate the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. Drivers should slow down and prepare to stop their vehicles.

Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate the bus has stopped and children are getting on or off.  Drivers must stop their cars and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop-arm is withdrawn, and the bus begins to move before they can start driving again. 

Other tips for drivers from the N.C. Department of Transportation include:

  • When backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch out for children walking or bicycling to school. 
  • When driving in neighborhoods with school zones, watch out for young people who may be thinking about getting to school, but may not be thinking of getting their safely 
  • Watch for children walking in the street, especially if the road contains no sidewalks 
  • Watch for children playing and congregating near bus stops 
  • Be alert. Children arriving late for the bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, school buses are one of the safest school transportation options for children, accounting for less than one percent of all traffic fatalities nationwide. 

However, in 2020 there were 398 crashes involving school buses, resulting in 234 injuries and two deaths in North Carolina, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation.

“So we expect people to be mindful of that and be aware of their surroundings,” said Lt. Harris. 

The fine for not yielding to stopped school buses is $500. Drivers violating the law could also receive up to four points on their driver’s license.