How to Cross The Street Around a Bus

Q: What are the rules for crossing the street after getting off a bus? Should I cross in front of the bus or behind it?

A : If there is a rule in our state law that applies exclusively to this situation, I haven’t seen it. But there are laws about crossing the street, and in the case of crossing the street after getting off a bus, there is one specific sentence in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) that is useful in this scenario.

However, before we get to the law, let’s talk about buses for a moment. If you grew up riding a school bus you were taught to cross the street in front of the bus. Sometime around the 1950s, school buses began to be equipped with stop signal arms, which would fold out from the side of the bus. Buses essentially became mobile traffic control devices that would stop traffic so kids could cross the street. The law also provides for steep penalties for drivers who don’t stop for a school bus.

That’s not the case with a transit bus. Drivers are not required to stop for a transit bus when it is loading or unloading passengers. (Drivers are required to yield to transit buses that are pulling back onto the road.) An aware driver will pay attention to a transit bus at a bus stop and pass with caution, anticipating the possibility of someone crossing the street. However, even if nine out of ten drivers are cautious, I don’t want to be the pedestrian that steps out in front of car number ten. Without the legal protections and stop signs that go along with school buses, crossing the street in front of a transit bus is much more dangerous.

That brings us back to the law. The RCW states that “no pedestrian or bicycle shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk, run, or otherwise move into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to stop.” Unlike some sections of the law that take multiple readings and a team of lawyers to make any sense of it, this is pretty clear; Don’t step in front of oncoming traffic.

The problem with crossing the street in front of a bus is that a pedestrian can’t actually see if there is oncoming traffic until they step into the lane. And the driver can’t see a pedestrian coming until the same moment. The bus limits the field of view for both the driver and pedestrian. Viewed from above like a crash investigator’s diagram, you could see the angles and lines leading to a crash.  Get the timing wrong and it’s a geometry problem with a fatal solution.

Just in case you need more convincing, WTA has a short video that shows the views from both a driver and pedestrian perspective. Go ahead and spend the next 36 seconds watching it. I’ll wait.

Here’s the link:–pI-KqnTI That pedestrian pops out pretty quickly, doesn’t she?

One area where school bus and transit bus safety intersect: crossing behind a bus. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Whatcom Transportation Authority agree – crossing the street behind a bus, whether school or transit, is not your best option. When you cross the street in front of the bus oncoming cars can’t see you; when you cross behind the bus the bus driver can’t see you.

So if you can’t cross the street in front of the bus, and you can’t cross behind the bus, you should plan your travel to only go to destinations on the same side of the street as the bus stop. Not really. Just wait until the bus pulls away and choose a safe location to cross the street.


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