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Back-to-school safety reminders from Michigan Auto Law

Michigan Auto Law Attorney Brandon Hewitt joined us to give safety reminders about back-to-school driving.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It’s back-to-school time and that means school buses back on the roads, kids on bikes, and general school zone traffic, so we decided to talk safety with Michigan Auto Law Attorney Brandon Hewitt. He ran through the laws surrounding everything from buses to bikes:

School Buses – No Passing

  • Michigan law states that you cannot pass or overtake “a school bus that has stopped and is displaying 2 alternately flashing red lights located at the same level.” (MCL 257.682(1))
  • When a school bus has stopped and its red lights are flashing, you must come to “a full stop not less than 20 feet” from the school bus. (MCL 257.682(1))
  • You cannot proceed and you must remain stopped until the school bus “resumes motion or the visual signals are no longer actuated.” (MCL 257.682(1))


School Buses – Yellow Lights

  • Michigan law does not specifically address this, but the Michigan State Police recommend that you prepare to stop when you see the yellow lights.


School Buses – Passing

  • Michigan law does not prohibit passing a school bus that is in motion.
  • Michigan law does not prohibit passing a school bus that has stopped but its red lights are NOT flashing.


School Buses – Smile for the Camera

  • Starting October 11, 2021, school buses can be equipped with a “stop-arm camera system,” which consists of at least 2 cameras that will videotape or photograph vehicles that unlawfully drive around a school bus that is stopped with its red lights flashing. (MCL 257.682(4); 257.1820(1) and (3))
  • The school bus stop-arm camera captures an image of the vehicle and its license plate up to 200 feet in front of the school and it records the date, time and location of the image.
  • The photo or video captured by the camera is admissible in court against a driver who is charged with unlawfully passing a school bus. (MCL 257.682(4))


School Bus Zones – Penalties

  • If you unlawfully pass a school bus in a school bus zone and you cause an at-fault crash that injures or kills someone, you could go to jail for up to a year or for up to 15 years, respectively. (MCL 257.601b(2) and (3); 257.320a(1)(l))
  • A “school bus zone” is defined as “the area lying within 20 feet of a school bus that has stopped and is displaying 2 alternately flashing red lights at the same level . . .” (MCL 257.601b(5)(c))


School Zones – Reduced Speed

  • A school zone includes the property on which the school building is located and 1,000 feet from the school property line in any direction. (MCL 257.627a(1)(c))
  • The school zone speed limit may be 20 mph less than the normally posted speed limit. (MCL 257.627a(2))
  • The school zone will not be less than 25 mph. (MCL 257.627a(2))
  • The school zone speed limit applies during the 30 minutes before school starts and during the 30 minutes after school lets out. (MCL 257.627a(2))


School Zones Penalties – Speeding and Moving Violations

  • Speeding in a school zone is a civil infraction. (MCL 257.627a(7))
  • Fines for moving violations in a school zone are doubled. (MCL 257.601b(1))
  • A moving violation in a school zone that injures someone may result in a misdemeanor which is punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and up to 1 year in jail. (MCL 257.601b(2))
  • A moving violation in a school zone that kills someone may result in a felony which is punishable by a fine up to $7,500 and up to 15 year in prison. (MCL 257.601b(3))


Bicyclists – 3-foot Safe Passing Distance

  • Drivers passing bicyclists on the left must allow a “safe distance of at least 3 feet to the left of the bicycle.” (MCL 257.636(2))
  • In the event a driver is passing a bicyclist on the right (i.e., the bicyclist is turning left or the bicyclist and the vehicle are on a one-way street), the driver must “pass at a distance of 3 feet to the right of that bicycle.” (MCL 257.637(3))
  • Nine Michigan communities have passed ordinances requiring drivers to give bicyclists a 5-foot safe distance when passing. Those communities are: Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo Twp, Muskegon, Norton Shores, Oshtemo Twp, and Portage. (League of Michigan Bicyclists, “Michigan Compiled Laws (MCL): Bicycles and the Law,” Item #19)


Bicyclists – Bike Lanes

  • The Michigan Vehicle Code does not specifically address the issue of bike lanes.
  • The Uniform Traffic Code prohibits drivers from driving on, in or across a bike lane except when crossing the bike to enter or leave property adjacent to the bike lane. (Uniform Traffic Code, R 28.1322 Rule 322)
  • “A driver may cross into a bicycle lane only when turning. This means that drivers are to make turns from the travel lane and not the bicycle lane.” (“What Every Driver Should Know About Bicycle Lanes,” Michigan Department of Transportation, brochure; “What Every Michigan Bicyclist Must Know,” League of Michigan Bicyclists, Page 33 of 36)
  • The Uniform Traffic Code that applies to Michigan is created by the Director of the Michigan State Police and may be adopted by Michigan cities. (MCL 257.951(1))


Brandon’s advice for safe driving during the school year:

  • No texting and driving: Texting drivers are 23 times more likely to crash. (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute)
  • No dialing the phone while driving: Drivers are 12 times more likely to crash if they are dialing a handheld cell phone while driving. (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute)
  • No talking on the phone while driving: “Driving while talking on cell phones – handheld and hands-free – increases risk of injury and property damage crashes fourfold.” (National Safety Council)
  • No impaired driving: Drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05 to 0.079 are 7 times more likely to be in a fatal crash and 6 to 17 times more likely to be killed than sober drivers. (MADD, Studies on the Effectiveness of .05 BAC)
  • Rest up before you get behind the wheel – “Drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving, and teens have the highest risk.” (AAA)
  • Obey the speed limit: “Excessive speed” was a factor in 18.5% of all car accident fatalities in Michigan in 2020. (Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, 2020, Fact Sheets, “Speeding”)
  • Wear seat belts: NHTSA data shows wearing a safety belt can reduce the risk of crash injuries by about 50 percent.

For more information, or to contact an attorney, call 833-411-MICH or visit www.MichiganAutoLaw.com.

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