Stopping for School Buses and Addressing Bus Safety

By Marianne Wood,
Bruce Peninsula Press

As my 5-year-old was boarding the school bus this morning (December 1st) a car blew past without stopping – flashing lights, stop sign, blaring bus horn and all. Wish I had caught your plate number…

This was the fourth time since September I had heard of similar incidents, which prompted me to write this. 

So how often does this happen?

Provincial Constable Nick Wilson of the Grey Bruce Detachment confirms that every year Grey Bruce OPP receives numerous calls for service regarding this matter. 

“Motorists have an obligation under the Highway Traffic Act to stop when they are meeting or overtaking a school bus that has its overhead lights activated or its stop arm activated. Motorists are only to proceed once the bus moves, or once the stop arm is no longer actuated.” said Constable Wilson.

“Those who fail to abide by this law could face a set fine of 400 dollars and 6 demerit points. The Highway traffic act also allows for the owner of a motor vehicle to be charged regarding this offence, in the event that the driver of the motor vehicle at the time of the event cannot be identified.” 

Wilson adds “Members of the public, if it is safe to do so, are encouraged to attempt to write down a licence plate of an offending motor vehicle, and report it to their local police service.” 

My bus stop is on the notoriously unsafe Highway 6. Our (amazing) bus driver takes extra care when students are boarding and crossing the road – our route for St Edmunds Public School carries the youngest of our northern peninsula students. 

“I have lost count of the number of times this has happened to me on Highway 6.” says bus driver David Warder of Lion’s Head. “I have many bus stops on Highway 6 and a vehicle has driven through my lights at every one of them, at least once, this school year. They ignore the strobing red lights, the stop sign, the blasting horn, the waving arm.” 

Warder has only been able to gather enough information to report three of the incidents to police. Two of those reported incidents were local drivers. One was a visitor to the area in a rental car, which prevented police from completing their investigation.

“It’s not just a summer thing” states Warder. “It has been just as bad in November and December as it was in September and October.”

The 19 children on Warder’s route are between the ages of 3 and 8. He recommends parents reinforce the importance of keeping items in backpacks while boarding, riding and exiting the bus.

“Children of this age do not yet think about much other than themselves. If they lose their grip on anything and it goes onto the road, the child is very likely to run onto the road and not consider the danger of the situation. My rule for the bus is that anything the students are not wearing needs to be in their backpack. Many of the students object and think it will never happen to them. If parents could help teachers and bus drivers to reinforce this with their children, it would contribute to a reduction of the risk of an unfortunate injury or death.”

Bus driver Leona Miller echoes Warder’s concerns. “It’s nerve-racking” says Miller who currently drives the Wiarton to Stokes Bay route. The stops on Highway 6 are an ongoing problem. Of particular concern are the consecutive stops that are close together; as soon as the bus starts moving vehicles race to pass, even with lights still activated and another stop just yards away. Licence plates are hard to catch. “Cameras on the bus would definitely help” suggests Miller.

Miller has been a school bus driver for 34 years with routes in Guelph, Orangeville, Fergus and now the Bruce Peninsula. She notes that the Ferndale area was especially dangerous with tourist traffic. 

“As a bus driver, you really have to concentrate – watching traffic while also making sure that children are boarding or exiting the bus safely.” 

Over her years of experience she has observed that students have a false sense of security around school buses and the risks involved. “Children learn from a very young age that a school bus is a safe place. They think that nothing bad can happen to them.” She offers a scenario: All it takes is for a child to leave one piece of paper on the bus, then without thinking, they run back to get it. That’s how quickly an accident can happen.

Like David Warder, Leona Miller thinks there should be more education and training provided by parents and schools on bus safety. 

Friendly Neighbourhood Reminder 

I assume that most of the drivers that don’t stop aren’t doing it out of a sense of entitlement – they’re just too distracted. They don’t see the flashing lights (they’re kinda hard to miss, but ok). A friendly neighbourhood reminder that you’re driving a three or four thousand pound machine hurtling towards a bus full of children…

Bus drivers have a tough job on the Bruce: monitoring weather conditions, traffic, wildlife – all while a bus full of kids are chatting behind them. With a region-wide bus driver shortage, let’s try to make their job as easy as we can.

 PS: Same goes for all Emergency Vehicles (I bet they have some stories to tell travelling Highway 6) and Flashing Green Lights too (your local volunteer Firefighters).