UNITED STATES—A recent car accident in Sacramento County could serve as a vital reminder to California’s motorists: You must know when it’s OK to pass a school bus. Your driving privileges and the safety of the public absolutely depend on it.

A Crash on Highway 16

According to a news article from Sacramento’s KCRA-TV, at 6:35 a.m. on Thursday, January 20, 2022, an eastbound Chevy Malibu ran into a westbound Chevy Spark on Jackson Road. Jackson Road is also known as Highway 16.

The force of this head-on collision caused the Spark to roll over. The crash also sent the Malibu careening into the school bus. The car hit the bus’s left side near the front. Fortunately, there were no students inside the bus at the time.

In addition, flying debris from the overturning Spark struck a third vehicle: the Chevy Silverado behind it.

After this accident, the drivers of the Spark and the Malibu were taken to the hospital. They both suffered injuries classified as moderate. Meanwhile, the Silverado’s driver was unharmed.

Upon arriving at the scene, California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers briefly shut down all lanes on Highway 16.

What caused this collision? According to the CHP, the Malibu was behind the stopped school bus. The Malibu’s driver then tried to pass this bus by crossing two solid yellow lines. A moment later, that car hit the Spark.

Passing School Buses in California

Naturally, California’s traffic laws strictly regulate when, where, and how motorists may pass school buses.

First, whenever a school bus is right in front of you with its lights flashing and its stop sign extended, you must stop. And you cannot pass it.

Indeed, you should always assume that children are walking in front of a stopped school bus. Tragically, about 19 children in the U.S. are killed every year right before they board a school bus or right after they disembark.

In addition, when a school bus stops on a road with two lanes, vehicles in both lanes must stop. Similarly, if a road has two lanes plus a center turn lane, traffic in all three of those lanes must stop when a school bus stops.

On the other hand, if a two-lane road has a median or another raised divider, the vehicles on the lane opposite a stopped school bus do not need to stop. Even so, those drivers should proceed with caution.

Likewise, if a road has four or more lanes, motorists driving in the opposite direction of a stopped school bus are not required to stop. Once again, though, caution is essential in those situations.

It’s also legal to pass a moving school bus that doesn’t have its stop sign extended. On top of that, if the driver of a stopped school bus signals that you may pass, it’s lawful to do so.

If you were to violate one of the above rules, a California school bus driver would have 24 hours in which to report your license plate number to the authorities.

Under California Vehicle Code 22454, the fine for such a violation can be up to $695. And, according to state law, ignoring or otherwise failing to pay such a fine can lead to a misdemeanor charge.

Moreover, when you’re caught illegally passing a school bus, you’ll be assigned one point on your official California driving record. A certain number of points within a certain period of time — for instance, four points in one year — can lead to a suspended license.

Hopefully, drivers who’ve heard about the January 20 collision in Sacramento County will have renewed respect for California’s school bus-related traffic laws. After all, it’s everyone’s responsibility to protect our nation’s schoolchildren.

More information about improper passing is available here on this injury blog.