All states require you to stop before reaching a school bus traveling in your direction and displaying flashing red lights. You may not proceed until the school bus resumes motion or the flashing red lights are turned off.
You may also proceed when directed to do so by traffic officers, including school crossing guards. Some states also allow a school bus driver to let you pass.
When you meet a stopped school bus with flashing red lights traveling in the opposite direction on the same roadway, you are also required to stop.
Differences Between States
You should be aware of some differences between states, because these differences often show on the written knowledge test. The differences mainly concern when you are not required to stop.
State laws telling you when to stop for a school bus loading or unloading children are often based on $11-705 in the Uniform Vehicle Code (National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances’ Uniform Vehicle Code).
Latest edition of the Uniform Vehicle Code recommend this wording: “The driver of a vehicle upon a highway with separate roadways need not stop upon meeting or passing a school bus which is on a different roadway, or when the school bus is stopped upon a controlled-access highway in a loading zone which is a part of or adjacent to such highway and where pedestrians are not permitted to cross the roadway“.
This is NOT commonly adopted by state laws.
Some states require you to stop for a stopped school even if you are on the other side of a divided highway, unless it is a controlled-access highway or unless the divider meets certain requirements (like width or being a physical barrier).
In some states it doesn’t matter if the road is divided or not, instead the stopping requirement is based on number of lanes, like three or more lanes in the State of Washington, four lanes in California, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio and South Dakota, or five lanes in North Carolina and Utah.
Study this part in your driver’s manual. You are very likely to get a question about it.
If you face flashing amber (yellow) lights, they tell you that the school bus is preparing to stop. Most states require you to use caution, slow down and prepare to stop. Passing in this situation is, however, still allowed, as long as it can be done safely, even if it generally should be discouraged.
A few states prohibit passing and overtaking when yellow lights are flashing.
You can usually pass a school bus that has stopped on a cross road. Many states prohibit a school bus from using flashing red lights at an intersection or other place where traffic is controlled by a traffic-control signal or by a police officer.
In states like Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania, you must stop when approaching an intersection at which the school bus is stopped. Michigan law requires you to slow down. Connecticut and Wisconsin have special rules when turning at such an intersection.