Tri-County Regional School Board director of operations Steve Stoddart holds a phamplet the RCMP recently gave out to drivers at a check stop. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
By Tina Comeau
Tri-County Regional School Board members have been told that there is a serious issue going on with drivers not stopping when buses have their red lights flashing.
The board’s director of operations says already this school year there have been some very near misses involving students and vehicles that didn’t stop.
“I get up every morning, I know I’ve got 5,000 kids on the road that we’re responsible for,” Steve Stoddart, the director of operations told board members at their Dec. 3 monthly meeting.
Stoddart said bus drivers are reporting instances where vehicles are speeding up, trying to race the red light when they see the amber warning lights flashing.
He noted that from the time school started in September to Oct. 23, there had been 42 reported cases of red light violations within the area served by the Tri-County board.
“We had two near misses – one close enough that one student had to pull another student out of the way or the car would have hit them going through a red light,” Stoddart said. “In my opinion it’s totally out of control in the Tri-County and the province.”
Stoddart said he’s spoken with his counterparts in other school boards and has received similar reports.
He thinks one issue may be inattentiveness of drivers because of cell phones.
He noted there is a province-wide survey happening to get a sense of how widespread the problem of vehicles not stopping for red lights on buses is. He’s hoping the data collected from that survey “will open people’s eyes” as to the seriousness of the issue.
Children who are getting on or off school buses have been taught to look both ways before crossing the road. But they’ve also been taught that vehicles will stop to let them cross the road so often it is something that students take for granted before darting across the road.
Stoddart said it is very difficult to get convictions for red light violations due to single licence plates on vehicles – bus drivers can’t see licence plates as vehicles are approaching. Identity issues are also a factor.
“If you can’t identify the driver the judge won’t hear the case,” he said.
It’s caused some school boards to install special cameras on their buses. The Tri-County board’s transportation department has been asked to report back to the board about the cost of such cameras and their effectiveness in other jurisdictions. This was requested by board member Ron Hines.
The board also passed a motion, made by board member Elizabeth Acker, to send letters to all of the municipal units asking them to have the issue of red light violations raised and discussed at their police advisory committee meetings.
“I wonder if this could be brought up at the principals’ meetings and principals could even include it in letters home to parents,” added board member Joan Brewer. “Parents can be great police people and a community watch sort of thing. If it’s their children that are at risk, parents will be on the lookout for violators of that, at their (bus) stop anyways.”
However a problem, noted Hines, is that some of the violators are probably parents themselves.
“It can be anybody,” he said.
Still, the board said the word has to get out that this is putting the safety of students at risk.
“It’s an issue that needs attention and any way we can get out there we’ve got to get it out there because there is going to be a child killed,” Stoddart said. “It’s not if it’s going to happen, it’s when.”
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