As students across Wisconsin head back to school, motorists are being reminded to keep a sharp eye out for students, school buses and crossing guards.

The State Patrols September Law of the Month details state laws designed to protect students as they head to and from school activities.

Children are easily distracted and don’t always think about their own safety, requiring drivers to be extra alert and cautious, said Captain Nick Wanink of the Wisconsin State Patrol Northwest Region.

Motorists should be watchful for school buses loading and unloading passengers, and for children who are walking or biking.

School bus laws

Wisconsin law (346.48) requires drivers to stop at least 20 feet from a stopped school bus that has its red warning lights flashing. The law applies when approaching a school bus from either direction.

The only exception is if you are traveling on the other side of a divided roadway separated by a median or other physical barrier.

When passed illegally, school bus drivers are authorized to report violations to law enforcement. A citation for failure to stop for a school bus costs $326 and four demerit points.

All Wisconsin school buses built on or after Jan. 1, 2005, must now be fitted with amber lights.

When flashing, the amber lights mean drivers should slow down because the red flashing lights will soon be activated and the bus is about to stop. Drivers can carefully pass a school bus with amber lights activated, but should do so cautiously.

Pedestrian laws

State law requires drivers to yield to pedestrians:

  • Who have started crossing an intersection or crosswalk on a walk signal or on a green light if there is no walk signal
  • Who are crossing the road within a marked or unmarked crosswalk at an intersection where there are no traffic lights or control signals; and
  • Whenever directed to stop by a school crossing guard (346.46 (2m). Like bus drivers, crossing guards have the authority to report violations to law enforcement.

Depending on the specific violation, drivers who fail to yield the right of way to pedestrians that are legally crossing a roadway can receive a citation ranging from $175 to $326.

Bicycling laws

When passing a bicyclist traveling in the same direction, motor vehicle operators must leave at least three feet of clearance and maintain this safety zone until safely past the bicycle. Violating state law that requires drivers to overtake and pass bicyclists safely can result in a $200 citation.

While motorists need to do their part, its also important for parents to talk with their children about safe travel habits such as always using crosswalks and obeying bus drivers and crossing guards, Captain Wanink said.

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Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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