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No physical road divider? Then stop for school buses

After encountering a school bus with its red lights flashing, I pose the following question: On a four-lane, residential area street with no divider between traffic flows, who must stop? No one in the traffic flowing the opposite direction was stopping and I would like clarification of the regulation for this situation, please.

— James H., Medford

Well, James, turns out you were in the company of a bunch of traffic violators: You've gotta stop for those flashing red lights no matter which side of the street you're on because who knows which direction those little buggers will go once they jump off the bus?

According to ORS 811.155, our friendly traffic cops are well within their rights to nail you if you pass a school bus while off-loading children, even if you're in the oncoming traffic. Kids can do some very unexpected things after being cooped up on the bus. If in doubt, just stop. Better safe than sorry. It's not worth the risk, not to mention the attorney fees.

Here's a paragraph on the subject from a guy who ought to know, Jackson County sheriff's Sgt. Dace Cochran, who wrote this in his Mail Tribune column in 2007:

"The exception in the law is when there is a physical barrier that divides the lanes into different roadways, then those in the opposite roadway lanes need not stop, but those in the same lanes still need to stop."

But, Cochran went on to note, you must stop if the road is not divided, even if it is really wide, "An example would be on South Pacific Highway between Medford and Phoenix. Even if you are in the slow lane on the opposite side of the road and the bus with flashing red lights is in the slow lane four lanes over, you still must stop because the road is not divided by barriers and a painted center left turn lane does not constitute a physical division of lanes."

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com.