Motorists on Washington Avenue in Vinton during early morning commutes or in mid-afternoon usually witness a parade of Roanoke County school buses transporting students in both directions on the four-lane highway.
According to Roanoke County Schools Director of Transportation Mike Stovall, “There are bus stops all over Washington Avenue; there are four buses that stop on Washington Avenue; and there are about 18 that travel Washington Avenue each day.”
In Virginia, motorists must stop for any stopped school bus that has flashing red lights and an extended stop sign when approaching the bus from any direction on a highway, private road or school driveway. Motorists must stop and remain stopped until all children are clear and the bus moves again. You must also stop even if the flashing lights and signs are not in use.
However, sometimes motorists are unsure how those rules apply when a divided roadway is involved.
“The law is, if there is a concrete median or barrier and cars are going the opposite direction from a stopped school bus, the cars do not have to stop,” explained Stovall. “If there is a stopped school bus and there is not a median or barrier, then all cars must stop.”
So, on some sections of Washington Avenue, heading out of town toward the high school, for instance, where there is a concrete or grassy median separating lanes, motorists are not required to stop. However, motorists should always be mindful of unexpected actions by students exiting the bus.
But on the main straight-of-way on Washington Avenue, from Mountain View Avenue heading into downtown Vinton, where there is no median or barrier, if a bus is stopped to load or unload students, motorists must stop as well, on both sides of the divided line.
Virginia has two laws that address the school bus stops issue. One is a reckless driving statute and the other is traffic infraction statute. Both laws carry six demerit points per the Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and fines. Violations may also land you in jail or with a suspended driver’s license.
“The school buses on Washington Avenue are passed on an average of four times a day where this not a median,” Stovall said. “If we have concrete evidence of the tag number and the color of the car, we provide that to the police. It is difficult to prosecute these cases because of the problem with trying to identify vehicles.”
According to the Vinton Police, when a violation occurs, typically the bus driver will call 911, especially if they get a vehicle description and license plate number. The bus drivers typically pay close attention because they are stopped and looking for such dangers to the children. Having said that, buses are regarded as the safest way for students to travel to and from school and as one of the safest forms of transportation in general.
According to the United States Department of Transportation, “‘Bus is Best.’ Every year approximately 450,000 public school buses transport 23.5 million children to and from school and school-related activities. Yet, on average, every year, six school-age children perish in school bus crashes as passengers while more than 42,000 people are killed in traffic crashes on U.S. roads.”
As an aside, what about those mail trucks delivering mail in neighborhoods? Are there rules about right of way with United States Postal Service vehicles?
The Vinton Police say that there are no special provisions for mail trucks in state code, so they do not have special right of way, but should be treated as a slow-moving vehicle. Before a mail truck pulls back into traffic, the mail carriers are required to yield to other vehicles. Drivers passing a stationary mail vehicle displaying a flashing, blinking or alternating amber light must proceed with due caution and maintain a safe speed for road conditions.