Drivers urged to use caution around school bus stops
Okotoks: Fine for passing bus with flashing lights is $465
Wednesday, Sep 27, 2017 06:00 am
Bus drivers and local authorities are calling for citizens to be more aware when approaching school buses.
Doug Arnold, operations supervisor for Southland Transportation in Okotoks, said an average of four or five vehicles pass school buses every week while their red lights are flashing and stop signs are out.
“People aren’t paying attention, or aren’t realizing what the red lights actually mean,” said Arnold.
Kelly Stienwand, Okotoks municipal enforcement manager, said bus safety is taken very seriously. The fine for drivers who pass school buses with their red lights on in Okotoks is $465, he said.
“Red flashing light always means to stop,” said Stienwand. “So, you’ll see red flashing lights sometimes attached to a stop sign, you’ll see them attached to railway crossings. It’s sort of an international common thing that if you see red lights flashing you need to come to a stop.
“In the school bus scenario, you’re not allowed to proceed until those lights quit.”
He said there is some confusion when it comes to roads with medians or boulevards.
According to the Traffic Safety Act, if a median divides the street only vehicles on the same side of the road as the bus are required to stop. However, he said drivers travelling in the opposite directions are reminded to be vigilant.
“Kids can sometimes be unpredictable, and they may run out across the median-divided road,” said Stienwand. “Drivers must use that due diligence and good care to slow down and ensure the kids getting off the bus get onto the street safely.”
Cheryl Nagel, safety and training officer for Southland Transportation in Okotoks, said there are often issues in town on streets without medians, where oncoming drivers are not stopping for the bus when its lights are on.
She said it’s possible some drivers aren’t aware of the red-light system, as it isn’t used by Calgary drivers.
She said she’s been filing a lot of reports with municipal enforcement on behalf of Southland drivers. They include licence plate numbers and descriptions of the offenders wherever possible so they can be given a ticket.
“We find it’s just getting so dangerous, because we’ve got kids on the road, kids loading or unloading the bus, and people are just going right through the red lights that are flashing all over the bus,” said Nagel. “Some are coming directly at the bus, and some are coming right out from behind and passing the stop sign on the bus, and that’s even more dangerous because kids are sometimes walking across the street.”
Still, she said many just aren’t paying attention at all.
Drivers try to get licence plate numbers, make and model of drivers, or have older students on the bus watch for the plate as vehicles pass, she said. With enough evidence, bylaw officers are able to charge the offender after the incident is reported, she said.
Arnold said unfortunately it’s not always possible to record the necessary information because drivers are focused on the students in their care, ensuring their safety.
“Our priority is the safe loading and unloading of students,” said Arnold.
He said one of the worst roads in Okotoks right now is Milligan Drive, where drivers are often passing school buses on the left while they’re stopped with their lights on. The stops are usually at crosswalks, which makes it even more dangerous because children are disembarking and walking across the street, he said.
“Along Milligan Drive we’ve probably got about five or six stops where students are crossing and drivers aren’t paying attention,” said Arnold. “There’s lots of room there and it’s a big street, so there’s no reason those cars aren’t slowing down or stopping.”
Though there are sometimes issues with rural stops, he said drivers out of town are generally more aware when they see school bus lights flashing and tend to stop more readily. Drivers have trained their students to wait in front of the bus and not cross until given the go-ahead by their driver, so when there are instances of cars passing it’s not quite as concerning, he said.
For the most part, Arnold said people driving the rural roads tend to understand how to approach a school bus because it’s been part of the driving culture in the country for years.
Most of the infractions come from in-town stops, for both Okotoks and High River schools, he said.
Arnold said it’s not about the stops being poorly located – that’s something the busing company and school boards take very seriously in planning their routes. Stops are always located with good sightlines in both directions for students and drivers, he said.
Municipal enforcement officers have been very diligent in patrolling school bus zones and helping to monitor traffic violations, he said, but it doesn’t seem to be putting an end to the problem.
“It’s an ongoing issue with our schools and also the public schools,” said Arnold. “We just need to make sure drivers are observant there are school buses around town and they have to let those buses do their jobs loading and unloading kids safely.”