Back-to-school means refresher course for drivers

Students head back to classes across Snohomish County this week. Here are some back-to-school driving refreshers.

School zone rules

More hairs can be split about school-zone laws than by a mother’s comb on picture day.

What if I don’t see any children? What about holidays, or evenings? What is a child, really?

School zone rules vary widely, so pay attention to the signs in your area.

Sometimes there’s a flashing beacon to let you know when to slow down to 20 mph. Sometimes it’s a sign saying, “When children are present.” Sometimes it’s both. Few list specific days and times for school-zone speeds.

Some key pointers:

If a sign uses the “when children are present” language, the 20 mph speed limit is in force when children are in marked crosswalks, waiting at the curb or shoulder to cross the road, or are walking along the roadway on the sidewalk or shoulder.

When a beacon is flashing — or if it’s within a stated time period for the school zone — drivers should slow down, even if children are cleared from the roadway.

Outside normal school day hours, still be prepared to slow down if you see kids. Extracurricular activities keep many kids around a school campus long past the final bell.

When in doubt, just slow down. A few extra seconds of drive time is worth the goal of keeping kids safe, local police officers say.

And whether it’s a school zone or not — or a kid or not — be sure to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.

Expect extra attention to these types of rules in the coming days.

“We will continue our traffic emphasis around school zones for speed and crosswalk violations. This is something we do every year at the start of school,” said Cmdr. Mark Thomas of the Marysville Police Department. “Another program we will continue this year is having (volunteers) in the area of our schools at the start and end of the school day to watch for and deter speeding and crosswalk violations.”

School bus rules

School bus drivers are on high alert this time of year, wary of distracted drivers and those who blow by their stop arms and flashing lights.

Even those of us trying to do the right thing can get confused.

When a school bus has the stop sign out and the lights flashing, drivers are not always required to stop. It depends on which way you are traveling compared to the bus. Which vehicles must stop:

On two-lane, undivided roads: Both directions.

On roads that are divided in order to separate the directions of travel: In the direction the bus is traveling.

On roads with three or more lanes: In the direction the bus is traveling.

Drivers headed in the opposite direction on divided and multi-lane roads do not have to stop because the law prohibits bus drivers from making a stop that requires a child to cross those types of roads.

When you do stop, leave an ample buffer to allow kids space to safely enter and exit the bus.

Illegally passing a school bus can get you a $419 ticket, for starters. Under state law, that fine can’t be reduced.

Some school buses now have video cameras to capture law-breakers. Marysville school buses are in their second year using the cameras.

No front seat until age 13

We all know to buckle up — but make sure your student is in the right seat.

Car seat installation checks are available at many local locations (see for information). But there also are rules for big kids who’ve outgrown the booster seat.

“In the haste of the morning routine and convenience, parents tend to let children ride in the front seat the short distance to school,” said Stacey McShane, Target Zero manager for Snohomish County. “A reminder that no children under the age of 13 are allowed to ride in the front seat per Washington law unless there is no other available seating position.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about ‘size’ being the determining factor on whether to let a child ride up front,” she added.

Washington law is designed to take the guesswork out of this by requiring the child has had their 13th birthday. The front passenger seat in a car is one of the most dangerous seating positions in your vehicle. Keep your kids in the back.”

Other safety tips

Other back-to-school road tips from local police and safety groups:

Use designated areas for dropping off and picking up students.

Carpool to reduce congestion.

Turn on your headlights.

Walk to school in groups.

Children under age 10 should cross the street with an adult or older child.

Kids should wear bike helmets when cycling to school.

Pedestrians should avoid headphones to better hear approaching vehicles.

Melissa Slager:, 425-339-3432

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