YARMOUTH, N.S. – When it comes to making headway on red light violations involving school buses, it seems for every step forward there is step backwards that follows.
Such is the case with the number of violations that were recorded during the months of September to December during this 2018-2019 school year in Shelburne, Yarmouth and Digby counties.
The total number of violations was 103 during these months, which was up from the same timeframe the previous school year when the recorded number of violations had been 91.
In the three counties, there was a small decrease in the number of violations in Shelburne County this school year compared to the last one – 33 compared to 38. There was a small increase for Yarmouth County – the number went from 40 to 42. Violations in Digby County more than doubled, going from 13 to 28.
The Tri-County Regional Centre of Education – and the Tri-County Regional School Board before it – has been using public education and awareness and other means to decrease the number of violations, along with lobbying efforts to see fines increased, saying that motorists who do not stop for school buses that have their red lights activated pose a serious risk to student safety.
In addition to having cameras on board buses to use as a tool if charges are laid and drivers need to be identified, other steps have been taken to try and decrease the amount of violations.
“We have installed flashing red LED lights on the majority of our buses at a level in line with oncoming drivers’ line of sight in addition to our regular flashing red lights,” says Steve Stoddart, TCRCE director of operations. “We thought this would substantially reduce our numbers as it has in other jurisdictions. Apparently, this in not the case.”
He said he wasn’t sure if other parts of the province are experiencing any reductions, but he intended to check in with his regional education centre counterparts.
Red light violations have long been a source of frustration and concern for local education officials. At the end of the last school year there had been better news to report about red light school bus violations in the tri-counties.
Stoddart had reported at the end of the last school year – in comparison to previous years – that there had been a large decrease in the number of times motorists who had passed school buses with their red lights activated.
During the 2017-18 school year there were 201 violations. That compared to 299 violations during the 2015-16 school year and 271 violations during the 2016-17 school year.
At the time Stoddart credited a media blitz over the years drawing attention to this problem as having had a positive impact. As well, this issue came up frequently around the table when the Tri-County Regional School Board was in place. Year after year elected boards members, in addition to board staff, expressed concern, anger and frustration that motorists would put the safety and lives of students at risk.
It was last year that the board took things a step beyond cameras by also installing the flashing LED lights as part of a pilot project. The lights activate when the regular red lights come on and appear to be more visible to the drivers of oncoming traffic, Stoddart had said.
In Prince Edward Island, drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses will now lose their licence: An update to the Highway Traffic Act took effect Dec. 8 and means failing to stop for a school bus when the red flashing lights are activated will lead to 12 demerit points, resulting in suspension of the licence for three months. This is in addition to the fine of up to $5,000.