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Understanding Indiana’s Statute Forbidding the Passing of a School Bus with the Stop Arm Extended

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, almost every single person knows that you can’t pass a school bus when it is stopped and the arm of the stop sign is extended with flashing lights. In fact, we all probably know someone who has been cited for passing a school bus — that, or if we were honest, perhaps we have done it ourselves when we were in a hurry (shamefully).

However, as defense attorneys, we’ve seen a huge influx of calls involving school bus related citations issued to defendants. That led us to reason that one of two things was happening (or both): (1) many don’t fully understand the law as written and are breaking the law unintentionally, or (2) officers are improperly citing people for the infraction. Shockingly, we’ve found the latter to be the case far more than the former. And, given that Passing of a School Bus While Loading or Unloading and Passing of a School Bus When Arm Signal is Out are both eight (8) point offenses with large fines and high insurance rates, the ramifications are huge.
School bus related infractions are so popular, it has lead WRTV6 to write a story about it, with the headline, “Drivers Disobeying School Buses Yield Safety Concerns for Children.” (Click on the title to read the article). In the article the reporter states that according to the Indiana Department of Education there are nearly 630,000 motorists who blow through school bus stop arms in any one year. They even claim that 10,600 of those incidents involve people passing on the side of the bus where kids load on and off the bus! Thus, it clear to see why police departments are attempting to crack down on these types of infractions.
The problem, however, is that we’ve found that many bus drivers and officers don’t truly understand the law. So what is the law?
According to I.C. 9-21-12-1, Arm Signal Device; Duty to Obey; Presumption, the law states, “A person who drives a vehicle that,
(1) Meets or overtakes from any direction a school bus stopped on a roadway and is not stopped before reaching the school bus when the arm signal device specified in IC 9-21-12-13 is in the device’s extended position; or
(2) Proceeds before the arm signal device is no longer extended[] . . .”
Commits a Class A infraction.
I.C. 9-21-12-1 goes on to state in subsection (b) that you can only be cited for passing a school bus if, and only if, the school bus is in “substantial compliance with the markings required by the state . . . .” Therefore, if the bus is not properly marked (like a retired school bus bought by other school corporations or businesses), there is possible defense to any citation you might receive.
I.C. 9-21-12-3 states that “[o]n a highway divided by two (2) or more roadways by:
(1) leaving an intervening space that is unimproved and not intended for vehicular travel (editor’s note: like a grassy median);
(2) a physical barrier; or
(3) a dividing section constructed to impede vehicular traffic; and
If the school bus is on the opposite side of the traffic barrier, the person who drives an approaching vehicle need not stop and may proceed with caution . . . .”
As such, there is no duty to stop if a physical barrier separates you from the school bus and there are more than two roadways between you. This is by far the biggest oversight by officers and bus drivers when issuing citations, and in fact, it’s the best defense to these types of cases.
After reading through all of the statutes cited above, you might be asking yourself, “What are the defenses to these types of offenses then?”
(1) Hearsay and Bus Driver Doesn’t Show at Trial: Without question, the easiest defense to these cases is if the driver doesn’t show to trial. If the driver fails to appear, the case should be thrown out. Why? Every case, minus those physically witnessed by an officer (which is rare!), starts with a bus driver writing down the make, model, color, and license plate of the vehicle they allegedly witnessed commit the infraction. Moreover, often times they describe in detail pertinent physical traits of the driver (i.e. sex, weight, hair color, etc.). If the driver doesn’t show for trial, their testimony cannot be heard and thus cannot be admitted at trial. Why? Because it’s hearsay — without getting into what hearsay means (which would take a yearlong course in the rules of evidence), suffice it to say it’s not allowed. Without that, the office has nothing to say.
(2) Divided Road, Physical Barrier: Given there is a legislated exception to this citation, it almost always makes sense to evaluate the scene where the citation originated from. Why? Because depending on where the bus was and where the vehicle was, the infraction may be invalid on its face. Oftentimes if you can describe the scene of the infraction with accompanying pictures, the prosecutor will agree that the infraction was written inappropriately and dismiss.
(3) Rebutting the Owner Presumption: at Banks & Brower we’ve defended these cases successfully by providing an alibi for the owner of the vehicle with supporting evidence and non-biased testimony. By doing so, the State is left unable to prove who operated the vehicle.
(4) Improper Markings: oftentimes buses are improperly marked or are sold to other school corporations or private companies. In so doing, inevitably, the markings are to code or in accordance with the standards.
In conclusion, passing a school bus is an incredibly dangerous thing to do. We would never condone doing so; however, it’s important that the State of Indiana be held to a high standard of citing drivers properly and according to the statute. Too many people are being improperly cited for these infractions and are suffering the consequences in terms of high points, high fines, and high insurance rates.
If you find yourself facing an infraction for passing a school bus with the arm extended, and you fell as if you have been wrongfully accused, give the experience litigators and former prosecutors as Banks & Brower a call today at 317.870.0019. Or, shoot us an email at We accept calls and emails 24/7/365.