Road rules for cars and buses | PEMCO

August 2, 2023 by PEMCO Insurance


It’s almost back-to-school season! Say "hello again" to long valet lines at morning drop-off and waiting behind school buses on your morning commute. 

Once school is back in session, drivers will be sharing the roads with school buses, navigating congested school zones, and watching out for increased pedestrians. Read up on these safety measures and earn an A on your safe-driving report card! 

What should you do if you approach a school bus with red signal lights flashing? 

The rules differ by state. Here's how it's different whether you're in Washington or Oregon...

In Washington – RCW 46.61.370 

You MUST STOP when: 

  • You're behind the bus, traveling in the same direction, regardless of the number of lanes. You can't use the center turn lane to pass the bus. 

  • You’re on a two-lane road, heading in the opposite direction of the bus. 


  • You're on a road with three or more lanes, heading in the opposite direction of the bus. 

  • You're on a divided highway, heading in the opposite direction of the bus.

In Oregon – ORS.811.155 

You MUST STOP when: 

  • You’re behind the bus or heading in the opposite direction, regardless of the number of lanes. 


  • You're on a divided highway, separated by an unpaved median or divider, heading in the opposite direction of the bus. 

In both states, you must stay stopped until the bus driver turns off the red lights, and it's NEVER OK to pass a school bus on the right, since that's where kids are loading and unloading. Stop at least 20 feet behind the bus to give students plenty of room. 

What are the local speed limit laws for school zones? 

School zones can be confusing. While a speed limit of 20 mph is standard, exactly when and where the limit applies can differ. That's why we urge drivers to adopt this easy habit: No matter the time or day, stick to 20 mph or less. When passing through school zones, remember the rhyme "twenty is plenty." 
Here are a couple things to know about school zone laws: 

  • When school zone signs in Washington and Oregon say "when children are present," they mean the 20-mph speed limit applies when you see kids walking alongside the road, on the sidewalk, in a crosswalk, or waiting to cross (not when they're in classrooms or behind a fence on the playground). Flashing lights on a school zone sign require you to slow down to 20 mph, regardless of the time of day.  

  • For school zone signs without a flashing light, Oregon law requires you to slow down to 20 mph from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on school days. In Washington, you must slow down to 20 mph when passing crosswalks marked with standard school or playground speed limit signs. Generally, school zones extend 300 feet in either direction from those marked crosswalks. 

Safety tips for driving near pedestrians 

With kids on foot and on bikes, it’s safe to say that the roads are a little more hectic during back-to-school season--especially when the weather's still warm. Our best advice? Drive slowly and always be prepared to stop. You never know when a distracted kid will unexpectedly cross the street or the driver in front of you will need to slam on their brakes. 
Here are a few best practices to keep in mind: 

  • Be extra alert when pulling out of a driveway, driving through a residential area, passing a bus stop, or approaching a crosswalk. 

  • Never pass another vehicle that’s stopped for pedestrians. 

  • Maintain at least a three-foot distance when passing bicyclists. Watch out for inexperienced bike riders who may turn in front of you without signaling. Check your side mirrors before opening your car door. 

  • Keep an eye out for crossing guards. Never block a crosswalk. 

  • Don’t double park, which blocks visibility for pedestrians and other drivers. 

  • Always use the school’s designated pick-up and drop-off areas. Avoid picking up and dropping your kids off across the street. 

  • If you can, arrange a carpool with other families to help reduce the number of vehicles on the road. 

If you have a school-age child, be sure to talk to them about how to safely walk or bike to school, cross the street, and get on and off the bus. 
At PEMCO, we care a lot about the well-being of our community. We've been rooted here in the Northwest for 75 years. We’re always thinking of ways to help you stay safe out there—this school year and always! For more safe-driving tips straight from our experts, check out our tips for sharing the road with cyclists, avoiding distracted driving, and preventing car breakdowns

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