HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - Over 1.5 million students are transported on school buses across the commonwealth each day. This week, Pennsylvania officials discussed the importance of the state’s School Bus Stopping Law. 

All traffic should stop at least ten-feet prior to a school bus with its flashing lights and side stop arm activated. Law enforcement officials say the only exception for vehicles to not stop, is when a highway is clearly divided by a physical barrier. They say if there’s ever any doubt, then drivers should just stop. 

“Even though a school bus is constructed with safety in mind, they still do not prevent careless drivers from passing a stopped bus that places children at risk of injury or even worse, death,” said Corporal Zeina Black, with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Division in the Bureau of Patrol for the Pennsylvania State Police. 

“The tragic fact is too often drivers ignore the warning lights on school busses and try to pass them, putting our children in jeopardy,” said Mike Keiser, the Acting Deputy Secretary for Highway Administration at PennDOT. 

With daylight fading earlier each afternoon, officials urge drivers to use caution when heading to or from work. 

“With additional challenges such as darkness coinciding with more of our students' school bus ride times and the distraction of the quickly approaching holiday season, it is important that motorists remain vigilant while sharing the road with school buses and students,” said Keiser. “Times of lower light conditions or darkness will now begin to align with school bus schedules, especially for after school activities. Please keep this in mind when you get behind the wheel going to or coming from work,” he added. 

The beginning of this school year marked the launch of the School Bus Side Stop Signal Arm Enforcement System, which uses cameras on the bus to capture violating vehicles. 

“The cameras capture violators passing a stopped school bus with its red lights flashing and side stop arm activated. The civil penalties include a $300 fine to the registered owner,” said Cpl. Black.  

Officials also discussed results from Operation Safe Stop, the annual school bus enforcement and education initiative which was held on Oct 19. According to participating school bus drivers, participating school districts and law enforcement in the initiative, 155 violations of the law were reported during the one-day campaign, down from the 252 reported last year. However, statewide convictions for breaking the School Bus Stopping Law increased from 314 in 2020 to 348 in 2021. 

“The increase in convictions of the School Bus Stopping Law last year is just one reason why we're reminding motorists of its importance. One incident of passing a school bus is one too many,” said Keiser. 

“It's our duty to follow the law and stop for busses while children are getting on or off. No errand, meeting, or engagement is more important than a child's life. So slow down and be aware of your surroundings when you're behind the wheel. Put down your phone and eliminate distractions and follow the rules of the road,” said Eric Hagarty, the Acting Secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Education.