Why Does a School Bus Stop at Railroad Tracks?

We’ve all been there – chugging along from errand to errand, driving along highways and making one’s way through intersections, when suddenly the familiar rumbling sound appears in the distance, as well as warning bells, and a loud whistle.

Whether you live in a rural or populated area, trains and train tracks are common to come across. In a vehicle, once the bells sound and the beams lower, it’s time to stop and allow the train to speed by… hopefully not adding too much time to your commute. However, if you have ever been behind a school bus, you may have noticed that they stop at all train crossings – even in the absence of a train. Have you ever wondered why a school bus stops at all railroad tracks?

It’s the law

The simple answer: It’s the law! School bus drivers are legally required to not only stop at all train tracks, but to look both directions and listen for the possibility of a train. It is required and part of a school bus driver’s training for approaching tracks. 

Stop, look, listen

Unfortunately, this law was not simply the result of preventive safety measures. In December 1938, a fatal crash occurred when a school bus driver in Utah was crossing train tracks when a train slammed into the side of the bus – resulting in the deaths of the driver and 24 students aboard. It was a devastating accident, as the school bus did stop and look, but the snowy weather conditions at the time would have altered the view, along with a malfunction of the train track alarms and arms. Now, all school buses drivers must stop, look along the tracks, open the doors and windows, and listen for a period of time to determine if a train is coming.

Stop within 50 feet

Additionally, Florida specifically has a statute in place which states that certain vehicles – including school buses – must “stop such vehicle within 50 feet but not less than 15 feet from the nearest rail of the railroad and, while so stopped, shall listen and look in both directions along the track for any approaching train, and for signals indicating the approach of a train… and shall not proceed until he or she can do so safely.”

Although this practice may chip in a small amount of time to your commute, it is a safety measure determined with evidence and reason to ensure a smooth ride for both traffic and trains. Ultimately, the safety of students making their way to and from school should be of the highest priority – even if it means taking an extra step in determining if a train is coming at the train tracks.