Follow Wisconsin’s school bus laws to keep students safe

School Bus Safety Week reminds drivers of laws to protect children

Release date: October 16, 2023

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation urges drivers to understand and follow the laws designed to protect children at the bus stop during School Bus Safety Week. The national campaign, from October 16-20, 2023, encourages safe driving around buses and is an opportunity to educate families on how children can stay safe.

There are about 600 crashes involving school buses every year in Wisconsin. School buses are typically the safest way for students to get to school. Children are most at risk when they’re not on the bus.

“As students cross the street to get to the bus stop, and while they get on and off the bus, they are in greater danger because they may be harder to see by the bus driver or others on the roads. That’s when tragedies are most likely to happen,” Wisconsin State Patrol Motor Carrier Enforcement Capt. Karl Mittelstadt said. “When you see a yellow bus, know that children are likely nearby and you need to be very careful.”

Requirements to protect children

When a school bus stops to drop off or pick up passengers, other drivers are required by law to stop too. Buses are also equipped with flashing warning lights and stop arms to signal to drivers that they need to stop, but they’re not always followed.

On one school day this year, bus drivers in Wisconsin reported 256 incidents of other vehicles illegally passing their school buses, according to a survey by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services.

When passed illegally, bus drivers are authorized to report violations to law enforcement. A citation for failure to stop for a school bus costs $326 and four demerit points.

Wisconsin law requires drivers to use extra caution around school buses to protect students:

  • Stop at least 20 feet away from a bus when red warning lights are flashing; the only exception is if you are traveling on the other side of a divided road
  • Slow down when amber lights are flashing, which signal the bus is about to stop and red lights will soon be activated; drivers can pass a bus with amber lights activated but should do so cautiously
  • Yield to pedestrians who have a walk signal or green light, or those who are crossing a road with no signals
  • Always follow directions from school crossing guard

School buses are designed to be the safest vehicles on the roads. The chance of injury in a crash is lower than other passenger vehicles due to the construction of the bus. Plus, they are the only type of vehicle with a specific color required by law. The yellow paint allows for high visibility.

The Wisconsin State Patrol works to ensure the equipment on every Wisconsin school bus is working properly to safely transport children. Inspectors conduct about 10,000 inspections each year, looking at mechanical equipment like steering, brakes and exits, first aid kits and fire extinguishers.

Bus stop safety

School bus drivers are some of the most highly trained vehicle operators on the roads. They receive special driver training and education on how to keep kids safe as they’re loading and unloading the bus. Drivers must pass the Commercial Driver License (CDL) exam with a school bus endorsement.

While the main job of bus drivers is to protect children, parents should also talk with their kids about how to be safe getting to and from the bus stop.

Children should always:

  • Look both ways before crossing the street
  • Follow instructions from bus drivers and crossing guards
  • Stay at least three, big steps away from the curb when waiting for the bus; wait until the bus comes to a complete stop and the driver says it’s safe to get on the bus
  • Make sure the bus driver can see them when crossing in front of the bus; stay at least five, big steps away and look both ways for other traffic

Visit the WisDOT website for more information on transportation safety for children.

For more information, contact:

WisDOT Office of Public Affairs
(608) 266-3581,