When to Stop for School Buses in NC (and Why)!

It’s not like people should be surprised by seeing a school bus plying the roads of North Carolina. They do it every year. Still, some people don’t know how to react and, more importantly, when to stop when they’re around school buses. What is the law for a school bus? What are the rules for a stopped school bus? What happens when a child is injured by a driver violating the rules?

Let’s answer those questions. We’ll explain the rules and give you shareable graphics (so your Facebook friends have no excuses for bad driving around school buses)!

When Do You Have to Stop for a School Bus in North Carolina?

You’re a driver on the same road. Should you stop?

North Carolina law surrounding school buses requires the following:

  • If you’re behind or following the bus, you must always stop.
  • On a two-lane road traveling in the opposite direction, you must stop.
  • On a two-lane road with a central turning lane, you must stop.
  • On a four-lane road with no raised median, you must stop.

Now you know what to do when the bus stops. To make sure this is abundantly clear, here are some simple graphics illustrating when to stop and when you can proceed without stopping.

Who Must Stop for NC School Buses: Two-Lane Road

In a 2 lane road, all traffic must stop for a school bus.

Who Must Stop for NC School Buses: Two-Lane Road With Center Turn Lane

In a 2 land road with center turn lane, all traffic must stop for a school bus.

Who Must Stop for NC School Buses: Four Lane Road With No Median

In a 4 lane road with no median, all traffic must stop for a school bus.

When Do You Not Have to Stop for a School Bus in North Carolina?

Not knowing when to stop and not to stop is a recipe for a rear-end accident. North Carolina doesn’t require you to stop for a school bus:

  • On a four-lane road with a raised median, oncoming traffic can continue.
  • On a road with four or more lanes and a central turning lane, oncoming traffic can continue.

Who Must Stop for NC School Buses: Four Lane Road With Raised Median

In a 4 lane road with raised median, only traffic following the school bus must stop.

Who Must Stop for NC School Buses: Four+ Lane Road With Center Turn Lane

In a 4+ lane road with center lane, only traffic following the school bus must stop.

When Can I Pass a School Bus?

Easy answer: you can only pass a school bus when none of its lights are flashing and its stop sign is not deployed. In North Carolina, if the bus is displaying its stop sign or the red lights are flashing, you are not legally allowed to pass it. There may be confusion among drivers who want to treat the bus’s stop sign like a traditional stop sign – they come to a stop, check both ways, and then proceed (if they stop at all). That’s not how the school bus stop sign works.

The better way to think of the school bus stop sign is like a solid red traffic light. You don’t stop at a solid red light and then proceed, and you shouldn’t with a school bus stop sign either. When the stop sign retracts, and the lights stop flashing, that’s your signal to proceed.

An extended school bus stop sign equals a red traffic light.

To reiterate: in North Carolina, it is illegal to pass a stopped school bus that is displaying its stop sign with red flashing lights.

Can I Pass the School Bus While It Is in Motion?

As long as its lights are not flashing and its stop sign is not deployed, you can pass. Be very careful here, especially if the bus is slowing down. The lights could come on at any time. If a school bus is still moving but coming to a stop, and its lights are flashing – yellow or red – it is illegal to pass. Once it pulls away from a stop and its lights stop flashing, it’s perfectly fine to pass. Watch for lane changes!

How Far Away Should I Stop for a School Bus?

The safe distance changes state-to-state. In Colorado, for example, you’re required to leave 20 feet between the driver’s vehicle and the school bus. North Carolina does not specify a minimum safe distance. It’s better to be safe than sorry, though, so be reasonable especially in hilly areas. School buses may roll backwards a bit before they get going!

What Happens if I Illegally Pass a School Bus in North Carolina?

North Carolina law takes a very dim view of drivers who illegally pass school buses. Doing so is not a simple traffic violation – it’s a crime. A driver who violates this law is:

  • guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor
  • fined a minimum of $500
  • shall not receive a “prayer for judgment” under any circumstances
  • penalized five points on their driver’s license (eight if a commercial license)
  • penalized four points on their car insurance

A “prayer for judgment” is a common way drivers seek to take responsibility for their violation to avoid some of the penalties associated with it. If you pass a school bus illegally, North Carolina does not allow you to avoid any of the associated penalties via prayer for judgment.

If the driver “strikes any person” while violating this law, the penalties’ severity increases. If convicted, the offending driver is:

  • guilty of a Class I felony
  • fined a minimum of $1,250
  • subject to revocation of their license for two years

Finally, if the offending driver’s violation results in someone’s death, that driver is:

  • guilty of a Class H felony
  • Fined a minimum of $2,500
  • subject to revocation of their license for three years
IMPORTANT NOTE: The penalties and punishments listed here are statutory and do not include the possible results of a civil suit by an injury victim or a wrongful death lawsuit by their family.

Does North Carolina Use Automated School Bus Safety Cameras?

North Carolina law allows for automated school bus safety cameras, though not all school buses have the devices. Any photograph or video recorded by one of these cameras can be admissible as evidence against a driver. The absence of a photo or video from an automated school bus safety camera does not prevent the driver from being prosecuted.

Be Careful Driving Around School Buses, or Else!

We don’t want to see anyone hurt by a driver’s negligence. The law has its ways, and the rules are simple enough. When a driver doesn’t follow the rules and hurts someone, the law will come after them – and so could a personal injury firm like ours.

Yes, a negligent driver could face a criminal case AND a civil lawsuit. If you or someone you love has been injured by a driver illegally passing a school bus in North Carolina, contact us at your earliest convenience.

Also, please feel free to share any of the graphics on this page. We’ve even put them all into big, shareable infographics for you below. Pop one on Facebook. Link to it in social media. With your help, we can eliminate the confusion and help drivers stay safe. If we can prevent even one injury, it’s more than worth the effort!