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Can You Pass a School Bus Flashing Yellow Lights?

School bus - Illustration by Anton Novikov


Yellow, or amber, lights mean caution.

When amber lights begin flashing on top of a school bus, they mean that the school bus is slowing down and preparing to stop. You must proceed with caution and watch for children by the side of the road. Remember, children are often unpredictable and may not see you coming. They could run into the road at any time.

In general, you are not prohibited from pass a school bus in this situation, even if it should be avoided. When passing the bus, your view to the sides is limited. Children may attempt to cross the road close to the bus.

Stay alert, if you have already started to pass.

Some states specifically require you to slow down when passing or overtaking the bus. In South Dakota and Iowa you may not exceed 20 mph in this situation. Utah law says you “shall slow the vehicle, but may proceed past the school bus using due care and caution at a speed not greater than specified for school zones for the safety of the school children that may be in the vicinity”.

South Carolina does not Allow Passing

In South Carolina you must always stop when overtaking a school bus flashing red or amber lights.

Photo credit: Anton Novikov

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  1. 1. Does not yellow indicate caution when driving and with other activities. Caution does not indicate one needs to stop. However, with school buses it indicates the action of stopping and stopped until the service door is opened.

    2. The red school bus lights and the stop arm do not extend until the service door is opened by the driver. The bus could be stopped for a period of time without the service door be opened.

    3. In years past did not the bus driver initiate the red lights and stop arm several hundred feet prior to being stopped and thus informing nearby drivers that the bus was stopping or stopped.

    4. I think the present arrangement can cause nearby drivers to not realized the bus is actually stopping or being required to be stopped at the moment the service door is opened for a rider.

    • 1. Yes. A requirement to come to an immediate stop at this point is, however, not the general rule. Yellow (or amber) lights still means caution. The school bus driver activates flashing yellow lights to indicate the school bus is preparing to stop to load or unload students. While wording of the law varies from State to State, motorists should slow down and prepare to stop at this point. The problem here, of course, is that some drivers ignore the warning, speed up and try to beat the red lights.

      2. Yes, during which yellow lights still flash. The yellow lights go straight to red when the bus has stopped, and the door opens. At this point, motorists behind the bus or traveling from the opposite direction on an undivided highway (the rule varies a bit) must stop.

      3. When manually operated, yes, I think red lights went on before the bus had stopped.

      4. You are not alone. Many proposals has been made to change it. Personally, I don’t think the arrangement is the problem. Some drivers simply ignore both the amber warning lights and the flashing red stop lights. Different arrangement won’t make a huge difference. But it’s an opinion.

      The use of two different colors, yellow as a warning, red as a stop or prohibition is considered by NHTSA to be a better solution than the old one.

  2. Does this apply in NY as well?

    • NY code requires you to stop for a school bus has that has “stopped to receive or discharge any passengers” and “when there is in operation on said school bus a red visual signal”.

      It does not mention amber lights.

  3. It’s tru.. there have beeen moments that school busses suddenly go from amber to complete red in less than five seconds giving u barely enough time to properly comply.

  4. I was moving down folsom one afternoon and I was in the center lane when I spotted a school bus to my right and saw the red light come on, I tried to stop only to have 3 cars honked madeley at me and one motorcycle cursed me out…either they did not see the school bus or thought to pass anyway as I believe we were even with the school bus when I saw him…I found I had to keep moving, as cars behind me who were traveling at 45 too might have hit me. When I looked in my rear view other cars were stopping.

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