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September law of the month

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Drivers should be patient, cautious, attentive as school year starts

The start of the school year can be an exciting time for students, a relief for parents and a wake-up call for drivers.

“Drivers should expect the unexpected because children and teens on their way to and from school don’t always pay attention to nearby traffic. Drivers will need to slow down and pay attention when approaching students who are walking or riding bikes. They also will need to be particularly careful around school buses that are loading or unloading passengers,” says State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald.

Stop for school buses

Wisconsin law requires drivers must stop a minimum of 20 feet from a stopped school bus with its red warning lights flashing. Drivers must stop whether the bus is on their side of road, on the opposite side of the road, or at an intersection they are approaching. However, drivers are not required to stop for a school bus if they are traveling in the opposite direction on the other side of a divided roadway separated by a median or other physical barrier.

When they are passed illegally, school bus drivers are authorized to report the violator to a law enforcement agency and a citation may be issued. The owner of the vehicle, who might not be the offending driver, will then be responsible for paying the citation.

A citation for failure of a vehicle to stop for a school bus costs $326.50 with four demerit points. If reported by a school bus driver, the vehicle owner’s liability for the illegal passing of a bus costs $326.50 with no demerit points.

Students walking to school

State law requires drivers to yield to pedestrians:

  • Who have started crossing an intersection or crosswalk on a walk signal or on a green light if there's no walk signal.
  • Who are crossing the road within a marked or unmarked crosswalk at an intersection where there are no traffic lights or control signals.
  • When a vehicle is crossing a sidewalk or entering an alley or driveway.


In addition, drivers may not legally overtake and pass any vehicle that has stopped for pedestrians at an intersection or crosswalk.

Drivers who fail to yield the right of way to pedestrians who are legally crossing roadways may be issued citations that cost approximately $175 to $326 (depending on the type of violation) along with four demerit points assessed on their license. The cost of the citation increases if it's the second violation within one year. A citation for passing a vehicle that is stopped for pedestrians costs $326.50 with three demerit points.

Students biking to school

When drivers are passing bicycles traveling in the same direction, they must leave a safe distance of no less than 3-feet of clearance and must maintain that clearance until they have safely passed the bicycle.

A violation of the state law that requires drivers to overtake and pass bicyclists safely costs a total of $200.50 with three demerit points. The cost for a second violation within four years increases to $263.50 with three points.

Superintendent Fitzgerald says, “As another school year begins, we are asking drivers to be patient, cautious and attentive whenever they are near students who are walking, biking or riding a bus."

Other laws of the month:


Related information:

SSI - Contacts Questions about the content of this page:
Steve L. Olson, steven.olson@dot.wi.gov
Last modified: September 3, 2014

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