Tina Comeau photo
By Tina Comeau
The issue of motorists passing school buses that have their red lights activated continues to be a major problem and concern for the Tri-County Regional School Board.
At the board’s May monthly meeting board members were told that between Jan. 6 and April 15 there were 63 cases of red light violations.
This number breaks down to 13 violations in Yarmouth County, 19 in Digby County and 31 in Shelburne County. The most problematic area, the board was told, is in the Municipality of Barrington, which accounted for 25 of the 31 violations in Shelburne County.
“As directed by the board we have installed cameras on a number of our buses, high-density cameras, that hopefully will identify drivers,” said Steve Stoddart, the board’s director of operations, who added a spreadsheet will be provided to the RCMP outlining the areas where the violations are occurring, particularly in the Barrington area.
Stoddart said all of the violations that occur in the Tri-County region are being reported to the police. (You can view a video interview with Steve Stoddart by clicking here.)
When the red lights are flashing on a school bus it means students are embarking or disembarking from the bus. In many cases these students are crossing the road. Stop signs are also activated on the buses when they are stopped.
Whether the vehicles are not stopping for red lights intentionally or because the drivers are distracted is unclear. Neither makes it acceptable, though, and Stoddart had a stern warning for those who do not stop for the flashing red lights of a school bus.
“I want to make sure that everybody out there knows that we are going to be taking every step possible to nail these drivers,” he said during the meeting. “And hopefully get some charges laid.”
The school board had already identified red light violations as a major concern in the fall when it was reported at a meeting then that from the time school started in September to Oct. 23 there had been 42 reported cases of red light violations in the three counties served by the board. This included two near misses where students were almost struck by vehicles.
Stoddart noted at the board’s most recent meeting that these ongoing violations are not just cases of motorists not stopping when they are meeting an oncoming bus.
“We’ve had people passing buses from behind,” he said. “And we had one case that was reported that three cars went through.”
Board members couldn’t believe what they were hearing from Stoddart.
“I am totally stunned by this,” said board member Alden Fells, who says it never occurs to him to not stop when a bus has its red lights activated. “I don’t understand where people’s minds are.”
There have been some instances of drivers charged with running the red lights. The school board hopes the cameras on buses and continued reporting and tracking of violations will lead to more charges.
In the end, however, the board said there is a bigger issue than whether people have to pay fines or receive demerit points on their licences, even though it is hoped this will serve as a deterrent.
The most important issue, the board says, is student safety.
“We have people that as the bus is stopped and the bus has the red lights on and students are crossing are not stopping,” said board member Andrea Huskilson, incredulous that this is happening so often.
“We’re going to have a child get seriously hurt,” she said.
Added Stoddart, “It’s not a case of if, it’s when.”