Donovan & Morello, LLP Sept. 29, 2017

Students have returned to school in Connecticut. That means drivers need to remember to follow a few rules of the road that have had the summer off along with students in the state. Forgetting those rules — and being caught doing so — carries stiff penalties for motorists or, even worse, can cause a serious accident.

The greatest risk to children is approaching and leaving a school bus, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration . Here's what you need to know — and what you should do — when you see a bus stopped with its flashing lights and extended stop-sign arm, or you are driving by a school.

Passing a Stopped School Bus

In Connecticut, it is mandatory for motorists to stop for school buses that have their red warning lights activated, whether they are approaching or following a school bus.

In a recent press release, The Connecticut State Police remind all motorists "to be especially vigilant watching for pedestrians before and after-school hours. The afternoon hours are particularly dangerous for walking children – over the last decade nationally, nearly one-third of child pedestrian fatalities occurred between 3 and 7 p.m."

Connecticut law requires that drivers approaching a school bus, which is displaying flashing lights and stop arm signs, to stop their vehicle at least 10 feet from the front or the rear of the bus until such signals are no longer displayed. Drivers are also prohibited from turning toward a school bus that is receiving or discharging passengers.

Bus drivers can report instances when they were illegally passed, and police must issue a written warning or summons to the owner of a vehicle who illegally passes a school bus “upon a written report from any school bus operator…specifying the license plate number, color and type of any vehicle observed by such operator or recorded by a camera affixed to such school bus.”

Penalties for Violations

Drivers who violate that law face a $465 fine for a first offense. Each subsequent offense carries a fine of $500 to $1,000, or up to 30 days in jail or both. The Department Of Motor Vehicles will assess four points against your driver's license for each conviction.

Speeding in a School Zone

School speed limits in school zones can be established on roads during school hours when lights to a speed limit sign are flashing. If you speed in a school zone during hours when the lights are flashing, fines are doubled.

Safety Tips

The Connecticut Department of Transportation offers tips for motorists when driving near school buses.

  • Slow down.

  • Be especially careful when driving on neighborhood streets and around school zones, always expect the unexpected.

  • Be alert for youngsters walking to and from school as you back out of your driveway or leave your parking garage.

  • Watch for school children on bicycles, especially at intersections and driveways. Young bicyclists have a tendency to dart out of driveways without looking for traffic.

  • Stop your car when you see lights flashing on a school bus. Flashing lights indicate that the bus is stopped and students are getting on or off. Don't start driving until the lights stop flashing.