Every day, millions of children across the United States take school buses to and from school. Most drivers are aware they must stop when school bus lights are flashing and the stop sign extends. But what happens if you fail to stop? Can you go to jail for passing a stopped school bus?

In short, yes, you absolutely can go to jail for passing a stopped school bus and putting children’s lives at risk. States and local jurisdictions take this offense very seriously.

In this detailed guide, we’ll explore the laws around school bus passing, the typical penalties and fines, and steps you must take if you are caught illegally passing a stopped school bus.

Laws Regarding Passing a Stopped School Bus

Federal Laws

When it comes to passing a stopped school bus, there are specific laws in place at both the federal and state levels. At the federal level, passing a stopped school bus is considered a serious offense due to the potential danger it poses to children.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has established regulations that apply to drivers of commercial vehicles, such as buses, that transport students. These regulations state that drivers must come to a complete stop and remain stopped until the bus starts moving again or the driver signals for other vehicles to proceed.

Violating these federal regulations can result in severe penalties, including fines and even imprisonment. The exact penalties may vary depending on the circumstances and the state in which the offense occurs.

It is important to note that federal laws apply to drivers of commercial vehicles, while state laws may also apply to non-commercial drivers.

State Laws

Each state has its own specific laws regarding passing a stopped school bus. These laws are put in place to protect the safety of children who are entering or exiting the school bus. In most states, it is illegal to pass a stopped school bus when its red lights are flashing and its stop arm is extended.

This applies regardless of whether the driver is traveling in the same direction as the bus or in the opposite direction.

Penalties for violating state laws can vary widely. In some states, the offense may result in fines, license suspension, mandatory driver education programs, or even imprisonment. The severity of the penalties often depends on factors such as the number of previous offenses and whether any injuries or fatalities occurred as a result of the violation.

Local Ordinances

In addition to federal and state laws, many local jurisdictions have their own ordinances regarding passing a stopped school bus. These ordinances are implemented to further ensure the safety of children and may impose stricter regulations than state laws.

For example, some local ordinances may prohibit passing a stopped school bus on certain roadways or during specific hours.

It is important for drivers to be aware of and comply with these local ordinances, as violations can result in additional fines and penalties. To stay updated on the specific regulations in their area, drivers should consult their local Department of Motor Vehicles or transportation authority.

Common Penalties and Fines

Passing a school bus illegally can have serious consequences. Not only does it put the lives of children at risk, but it is also against the law in most jurisdictions. Depending on the state and the specific circumstances, individuals who pass a school bus illegally may face penalties such as fines, driver’s license points, license suspension, and even jail time.


One of the most common penalties for passing a school bus illegally is a fine. The amount of the fine can vary depending on the state and the severity of the offense. In some states, the fine can range from $250 to $1,000 or more.

These fines are meant to serve as a deterrent and to emphasize the seriousness of the offense.

Driver’s License Points

In addition to fines, passing a school bus illegally can result in the accumulation of driver’s license points. These points are typically added to a driver’s record and can have long-term consequences.

Accumulating too many points can lead to increased insurance premiums, driver’s license suspension, or even revocation in some cases.

License Suspension

In some cases, passing a school bus illegally can result in the suspension of a driver’s license. This means that the individual is not legally allowed to operate a motor vehicle for a certain period of time.

The length of the suspension can vary depending on the state and the number of previous offenses. During the suspension period, individuals may need to rely on alternative forms of transportation or seek other means of getting to work or school.

Jail Time

In extreme cases, passing a school bus illegally can result in jail time. While this is not a common penalty, it can be imposed if the offense is especially severe or if the individual has a history of similar offenses.

Jail time serves as a more serious consequence and is designed to deter individuals from engaging in dangerous behavior that puts the lives of children at risk.

It’s important to note that the specific penalties and fines for passing a school bus illegally can vary depending on the state and the circumstances of the offense. To familiarize yourself with the laws in your area, it’s best to consult the relevant state statutes or reach out to local law enforcement.

What to Do If You Pass a Stopped School Bus

Pull Over Immediately

If you find yourself in a situation where you pass a stopped school bus, it is essential to pull over immediately. This is not only for the safety of the children boarding or exiting the bus, but also to avoid any legal consequences.

By pulling over, you are demonstrating your commitment to following traffic laws and ensuring the safety of everyone involved. Remember, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Contact Authorities

After pulling over, it is crucial to contact the appropriate authorities to report the incident. This could be the local police department or the school district’s transportation department. By reporting the incident, you are providing valuable information that can help authorities take appropriate action.

This helps ensure that the driver who violated the law is held accountable for their actions.

Cooperate Fully

When authorities arrive at the scene, it is important to cooperate fully with their instructions and provide any necessary information. This includes providing your identification, vehicle registration, and insurance details, if requested.

Cooperating with the authorities not only helps facilitate their investigation but also demonstrates your willingness to take responsibility for your actions.

Consult a Traffic Attorney

If you have passed a stopped school bus and are concerned about potential legal consequences, it is advisable to consult a traffic attorney. They can provide you with expert advice on how to navigate the legal process and may be able to minimize the impact of the incident on your driving record or potential penalties.

A traffic attorney will ensure that your rights are protected and that you receive fair representation throughout the legal proceedings.

Remember, passing a stopped school bus is a serious offense that can result in significant penalties, including fines and even jail time in certain circumstances. It is crucial to take immediate action if you find yourself in this situation to ensure the safety of children and to protect yourself legally.


Passing a stopped school bus is an extremely serious traffic violation that puts children’s lives at risk. All 50 states have laws prohibiting drivers from passing school buses that are stopped with flashing lights to load or unload children.

Penalties can include hefty fines, license suspension, and even jail time. If you accidentally pass a stopped school bus, pull over immediately and contact local law enforcement. Cooperate fully but consider consulting with a traffic attorney.

Let this serve as an important reminder to all drivers to slow down, pay attention, and stop for school buses.

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