Traffic Q & A: When a bus stops, should the traffic behind it?

Q: I live in University Place and often drive down Grandview Drive West, which is a two-lane road with bike lanes and double yellow lines separating the lanes. I often get stuck behind a Pierce Transit bus dropping off and picking up passengers. When the bus is pulled over for a stop, is it legal to pass the bus?

Passing would result in the left half of your vehicle crossing the double yellow lines. I see some people pass and I see some stay behind the bus the entire length of Grandview, waiting at each stop.

Chris G.

A: You’ve identified a situation that the Washington Driver Guide glides right on past. Even when you listen to the YouTube audio version that someone read aloud for three-plus hours of the only life they’ll ever get, the state’s official driving advice skips from “You must stop for a school bus that is stopped with its red lights flashing” to “You must yield to any transit vehicle (bus) that has signaled and is pulling back onto the roadway.”

Artful ambiguity, isn’t it? We called the state Department of Licensing, which prints that manual, for clarification. Agency spokesman David Bennett said at first blush that even he didn’t know the legality, but confessed he occasionally passes stopped transit buses himself.

“It feels wrong, doesn’t it?” he said before looking into the legality.

Evidently something within our letter-writer’s conscience agrees. After some research, Bennett was able to determine that, to the best of the agency’s ability to divine concrete meaning from the Legislature’s verbiage, it’s perfectly legal — mainly because no law forbids it, unlike the bit about passing a stopped school bus.

As Mama used to say, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. The folks at Pierce Transit, whose Route 53 buses run down Grandview hourly during daytime, would like to note that a stopped bus means somebody’s walking somewhere, either exiting the bus or walking toward it.

And with the prospect of waiting a full hour for the next bus, could you blame someone for dashing across traffic to catch an arriving one?

“Riders will sometimes see the bus coming and dart quickly across a street to catch it,” Pierce Transit spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet wrote in an email. “Just as you would watch for children around a school bus, it’s always a good idea to watch for pedestrian traffic around stopped buses.”

So the law says yes, you can pass a stopped bus. But Chris G.’s question contains a second legal thorn: Because Grandview is a two-lane road with a double-yellow stripe in the middle, is going halfway into the opposite lane forbidden?

Ordinarily, yes. Crossing a double yellow to pass other traffic that’s moving too slow for your liking will, in University Place, earn you a $136 ticket, plus the collateral damage to your insurance premiums.

But for a stopped bus? Go right ahead if the way is clear,

“A bus that’s stopped there would be just like a vehicle that’s parked on the side of the road,” University Place Police Chief Mike Blair told us. “As long as you use due care and caution — you know, you’re not reckless — we certainly would not give anybody a ticket for it.”

A cop elsewhere might not have gotten that memo, so proceed with caution in other jurisdictions. This column isn’t admissible in any traffic court we’re aware of.