School Bus Stop Sign
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Here's the Real Reason Why School Buses Stop at Train Tracks

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Feb. 18 2022, Published 5:31 p.m. ET

Many of us grew up taking yellow buses to school. Depending on where you lived, you may have noticed train tracks on your commute. Oftentimes, the school buses would stop completely and even open their doors, regardless of whether a train was coming.

But why do drivers do that? Is there a law in place that makes stopping at train tracks a requirement for school buses?

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Why do school buses stop at train tracks?

According to Mathew Cruz, a school bus driver in New York State, stopping at railroad tracks is mandated by the state's Department of Transportation. He explained to Distractify that drivers are required to stop their buses completely, about 50 feet away from the tracks.

School Bus
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After they stop, drivers are required to put their bus in park or to shift into neutral, depending on the vehicle.

Plus, bus drivers must open their window, the passenger-side door, and quiet things down inside of the bus (like the radio, AC and heater units, and kids) in order to hear whether a train is headed in their direction. All of this is required so they can stop safely and in accordance with the law.

Although this is the process mandated by New York State, the Head Start Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center (ECLKC) has recommended similar procedures for school buses on a national level. Each year, ECLKC writes, about 4,000 collisions happen between vehicles and trains. As a result, the center recommends that bus drivers follow a number of steps to ensure they are vigilant of their surroundings.

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Inside a School Bus
Source: Getty Images

"Use school bus hazard warning lamps, and tap the brakes to communicate to traffic that the bus is about to stop," ECLKC writes. "Take these actions far enough in advance to avoid startling motorists behind the bus, which could cause panic stops or rear-end collisions." ECLKC recommends taking these preventative measures regardless of whether there are passengers or kids aboard the bus.

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ECLKC notes that their recommendations, which "must be considered within the context of individual state laws and regulation," are in place to keep everyone on the buses — and on the roads, more generally — safe. Since school buses are primarily for children, other laws exist for regular drivers when they share the road with a school bus.

For example, stopping behind a school bus when it's displaying its stop sign, and stopping whenever a bus is picking up or dropping off children are just two rules other drivers need to follow when sharing the road with these large vehicles. Failure to do so can result in drivers facing fines of up to $1,000, and even months in jail.

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