Since You Asked

There are a lot of school buses passing near my house on South Pacific Highway in the late afternoons and it is not unusual to meet emergency vehicles on that same stretch of highway at that time. I was wondering if police and fire vehicles responding to an emergency have to stop if they encounter a stopped school bus with its lights flashing and its "Stop" arm extended? Or can they pass the bus on their way to a call?

— Marilyn D., Medford

Well, Marilyn, the buses may not come equipped with piercing sirens, but it turns out the flashing lights of a school bus trump the emergency lights of a police car or fire truck.

For the most part, police and fire vehicles must obey basic traffic laws no matter the situation, and this one is no different, according to Medford Fire Department acting Battalion Chief Larry Sills.

"We occasionally encounter stopped school buses and we have to stop every time," Sills said.

The thinking is that emergency responders who are on their way to help people don't want to cause injuries or additional emergencies for other people — in this case schoolchildren.

Often, school bus drivers will pull to the side of the road and allow oncoming police and fire vehicles to pass, Sills said.

"They usually are pretty good about letting us through," he said.

If a bus is stopped to let out children, sometimes the fire engine driver will make contact with the bus driver, who will keep the kids on board while the engine passes.

"They will motion us by if it is safe to do so," Sills said.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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