For obvious safety reasons, all states have laws requiring drivers to stop for school buses that are loading and unloading children. This article outlines some of the basics of what state laws require and the penalties associated with improperly passing a stopped school bus.
Prior to loading or unloading, school buses will stop and generally either turn on flashing red lights or activate an extended stop sign that protrudes from the bus itself. These indicators are intended to signal to other drivers that bus passengers are loading or unloading and may be crossing the street nearby. When a school bus activates one of these indicators, the law typically requires motorists to stop ten to 50 feet away from the school bus (depending on state laws). This requirement applies to cars traveling behind the school bus, in adjacent lanes or in the opposite direction lane.
Since school bus laws that require traffic to stop are aimed at passenger safety, they usually contain exceptions for situations where there's no possible risk to children or parents who might be escorting. For instance, drivers traveling the opposite direction on a separated multi-lane highway normally don't have to stop for school buses as long as there are no crosswalks across the highway. Additionally, some cities have bus loading zones that are separated from the main road. If the loading zone is separated from the highway (so that passengers aren't crossing), drivers typically don't need to stop for a loading or unloading school bus.
In some states, a driver can be cited for school bus violations caught on camera, even if a police officer isn't present. Similar to how it works with red light cameras, school bus camera tickets are sent to the vehicle's registered owner.
The penalties for failing to stop for a school bus vary from state-to-state but generally involve hefty fines, demerit points, and possible jail time. For example, violators in Mississippi face $350 to $750 in fines and up to one year in jail. Some states, like Rhode Island, will also suspend the violator's driver's license.
A driver who improperly passes a school bus and injures a child will typically face much more severe penalties. In many states, a driver who injuries a child during a school bus passing violation will be looking at felony charges and the potential of spending a number of years behind bars.