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Chokepoints: School bus rules revisited and a fix to the 522 cut-through


With the kids back in school, it’s a great time to remind everyone of the rules for stopping or passing school buses.

Most people understand the rules, which you can find on page 3-23 in the Washington Driver Guide, but it’s always good for a refresher course.

When the paddle is up and the red lights are flashing, drivers must stop if you’re going the same direction. You can’t pass a bus on the right. You must stop in the opposite direction when you’re on a two-lane road.

Many drivers believe they always have to stop when traveling in the opposite direction when a bus has its flashing reds on. That’s not the case. When the road has three or more lanes, and that can include a left turn lane in the middle, opposite traffic does not have to stop. So if you’re on a road with one lane in each direction and a protected turn lane in-between, opposite traffic does not need to stop. That said, pass with caution because kids are unpredictable and might try to cross two lanes of traffic.

KIRO listener Meghan said she recently made a legal pass of a school bus with its lights on, and the bus driver honked and waved her arms in disgust. It’s possible some bus drivers aren’t sure of the rules either.

522 cut-through

A listener asked me about the daily grind on northbound I-405 at 522 and his anger at drivers that exit at 160th just to cross the signal and get back on the freeway; basically cutting all the people waiting in line on I-405.

Kim Henry with the Washington State Department of Transportation explained what could be done to eliminate this behavior, which is angering drivers and causing the off-ramp to 522 to backup even more.

“We have a situation here where we’re getting more through-movement than we’d like to see, and I think that part of it is that people are looking for some opportunities to bypass some of the ramp traffic there,” Henry said.

Henry told me a change was coming either in the form of ramp meters or signs warning that the cut-through is not allowed. It appears new signs will be installed this fall, saying something along the lines of: “no through traffic, except transit.” I’m not sure if that will help, at least not without a friendly state trooper there to reinforce it.

4-way stop

KIRO Radio’s Colleen O’Brien asked me about her local four-way stop. She wanted to know if she could pass the cars waiting to turn left or going straight on the right to take a right turn. This one is up to interpretation, based on my answers from local law enforcement agencies.

Some said “yes.” Others said “no.” State law says you cannot pass on the right, unless the car you are passing is making a left turn. So if you’re passing cars going straight, you would be in violation.

The law also states that you can pass on the right when there is “unobstructed pavement of sufficient width for two or more lines of vehicles moving lawfully in the direction being traveled by the overtaking vehicle.”

In Colleen’s case, there is plenty of room to pass.

The only x-factor in this is if there is a white line on the right, indicating a shoulder. You cannot cross that white line to pass on the right.

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