Originally published September 6, 2021.

No stretch of road requires more focus or care from drivers than a school zone. Children are far more vulnerable in collisions than adults, and far less likely to understand the importance of crossing only at crosswalks when there are no cars present.

Drivers hold the safety of children in their hands when they drive near schools or buses, so it’s essential they pay close attention to Michigan’s school zone traffic laws, including reducing their speed for the entire length of the school zone and stopping behind stopped school buses to let students exit and enter the bus safely.

Let’s review what Michigan law says about driving in school zones and near school buses to find out how we should drive to be as safe as possible as schools reopen.

What Is Considered a School Zone in Michigan?

According to Michigan state law, “school zone” means school property on which a school building is located. This also includes the adjacent property. A school zone extends no more than 1,000 feet from the school property line in any direction.

School zones have their own speed limits to reduce the number of car accidents and the severity of accidents between vehicles and pedestrians, especially children.

School Zone Speed Limits Permitted by Michigan Law

A speed limit on a road that passes through a school zone is enforced between 30 minutes before the first regularly scheduled school session until 30 minutes after the last regularly scheduled school session.

In these zones, normal speed limits are lowered by up to 20 miles per hour, but no speed limit can be lowered to less than 25 miles per hour. For example, the speed limit on a road that is normally 40 miles per hour may become 25 miles per hour once a driver passes into the school zone while it is school hours.

Michigan Law Also Dictates How to Drive Near School Buses

Michigan law requires drivers to come to a complete stop at least 20 feet away from buses when their red lights are flashing, regardless of whether they are driving on the same side of the road as the bus or the opposite side. This is because children are exiting the bus and might be crossing the street in front of traffic.

The only exception is when a driver is driving in the opposite direction to the bus on a divided highway with a physical barrier or median between opposing lanes of traffic.

In summary:

  • When a school bus’s overhead lights are flashing yellow, drivers should prepare to stop.
  • When overhead lights are flashing red, drivers are required to come to a complete stop.
  • Drivers should proceed with caution when a school bus’s hazard warning lights are flashing.

Drivers Face Penalties If They Violate These Traffic Laws

Drivers who violate the above traffic laws are subject to a fine that is double the fine normally prescribed for that traffic violation. A person who violates these laws and injures someone through their own negligence faces a misdemeanor charge punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment for up to 1 year, or both.

If a driver violates these laws and causes fatal injury to a school-age child, or anyone else riding a school bus—such as teachers or chaperones—through their own negligence, they face a felony charge punishable by a fine of up to $7,500 or by imprisonment for up to 15 years, or both.

Those are only the criminal charges. They can also be held liable for personal injury or wrongful death by the victims or the victims’ families in civil court through lawsuits.

Legal Options for Those Injured by Negligent Drivers in School Zones

When a student (or any other pedestrian) is injured in an active school zone by a negligent driver, they have the right to demand compensation from the at-fault driver for all the costs of the injuries they’ve suffered. Typically, that compensation comes from the at-fault driver’s insurance provider.

It’s important for injured pedestrians and their families to know that insurance companies frequently offer lowball settlements after these crashes. That’s why it’s best to consult an experienced Michigan injury lawyer to make sure you’re getting a fair offer and that you don’t settle for less than your family is legally entitled to.

Contact Fieger Law for Help

If you or a loved one, especially a child, has been injured by a negligent driver in a Michigan school zone, know that you have an ally at Fieger Law. We stand up for injured victims to demand maximum compensation for their injuries.

Contact our Michigan car accident lawyers today for a free consultation with our team.