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Ask a Trooper: How to react when school bus lights flash

Question: I frequently encounter school buses and I see many drivers hesitate, and it seems like they don't know what to do when the school bus lights start flashing. Could you cover this issue?

Answer: Yes, and great timing! School bus stop arm violations can occur any time during the school year, but they seem to be more frequent at the beginning of the school year and near the end as well. 

Drivers of all ages are being cited for running the stop arm of a school bus, and the number one reason most drivers give as to why they do so is that they did not see the bus! 

Many people have trouble with the issue of the yellow lights on the bus. When lights start flashing, they don't know if they should stop or go. 

It helps to know that bus drivers are required to activate the yellow flashing lights on the bus at least 100 feet before stopping, while in a 35 mph zone or less, and at least 300 feet when they are in a speed zone of 35 mph or more. 

It is the opinion of many people that those distances may not be adequate, and I know that bus drivers are very good about adjusting to the traffic conditions as they drive their routes. 

Drivers who are encountering school buses need to slow down and be ready to stop if need be. The stop arm may come out while you are attempting to go around.

If you are meeting a bus, you have the opportunity to communicate with the bus driver, but if you are coming from behind the bus, then you really have to be careful. 

One idea is to treat the yellow flashing lights on the bus as being red. In other words, plan on stopping if you can. 

If you are already going around or meeting the bus and the yellow flashing lights come on, then of course you would continue. If you are way back and the yellow lights start flashing, then plan on stopping, unless for some reason, the situation dictates otherwise. 

Driving past or meeting a school bus transporting children can be a hazard, so again, slow down and be prepared to stop if needed.

Remember that when you stop for a school bus stop arm and sign, you have to stop at least 20 feet away from the bus and you can't start moving your vehicle until the sign goes in and the red lights stop flashing. If we all work together on this, we can see a great reduction in these violations. 

If you have any questions concerning traffic-related laws or issues in Minnesota, send your questions to Sgt. Jesse Grabow - Minnesota State Patrol at 1000 Highway 10 W., Detroit Lakes, MN 56501-2205. You can also email him at