August 23, 2017

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School division launches new bus safety campaign aimed at drivers

Mark Bugnaski / The Associated Press File</p>

Mark Bugnaski / The Associated Press File

Time and time again, the red flashing lights go on, the bright red stop sign swings out from the side of the school bus... and traffic speeds past.

This dangerous — and illegal — scenario is played out so often in a given day, says Lord Selkirk School Division transportation supervisor Mike Munday, "To me, its insane. It seems it should be a simple thing to do: when a school bus lights are on, you stop."

SUPPLIED </p><p>Released as part of Think of Us on the Bus campaign to highlight issue of traffic passing school buses while the buses red lights and stop signs are active.</p>

SUPPLIED

Released as part of Think of Us on the Bus campaign to highlight issue of traffic passing school buses while the buses red lights and stop signs are active.

SUPPLIED </p><p>Released as part of Think of Us on the Bus campaign to highlight issue of traffic passing school buses while the buses red lights and stop signs are active.</p>

SUPPLIED

Released as part of Think of Us on the Bus campaign to highlight issue of traffic passing school buses while the buses red lights and stop signs are active.

To that end, the school division on Wednesday is launching its Think of Us on the Bus campaign, designed to not only put a spotlight on a potentially harmful driver action, but also to educate on the proper approach to sharing the road with school buses and act as a warning for future punishment for law breakers.

Starting in the 2017-18 school year, the division – centred on the City of Selkirk and supporting an area of some 1,760 square kilometres and 15 schools – will begin installing high-definition cameras on the exterior of its buses in an effort to curb "stop-arm violations."

"We'll actually have video evidence we can submit to the RCMP for them to use as evidence in tickets," Munday said Tuesday.

Such tickets for passing a school bus while its red lights are on and stop sign extended can result in a $673 fine and two demerits for the guilty driver's licence. Currently, any infraction not witnessed by police requires bus drivers to have the licence plate number of the alleged offender and to provide a statement for police to follow up on. Even with the addition of video footage, it is up to the police whether to pursue legal action.

"We don't want to use the cameras, we don't want to issue tickets, we don't receive any revenue from tickets... it is entirely about keeping our kids safe and getting the cars to stop," Munday said, adding the local RCMP are "completely supportive of it, completely 100 per cent behind what we are doing."

The numbers at the heart of the campaign are surprising: according to the Lord Selkirk School Division, in surveys conducted Nov. 28 to Dec. 9, 2016, and Feb. 6 to 17, 2017, its school bus drivers witnessed 649 stop-arm violations -- an average of 36 a day.

(The drivers were asked to track what they deemed to be infractions on forms which were later tabulated. "Their No. 1 job is the students' safety... they are watching the streets first," Munday said. "We didn't ask them for a lot of detail, other than to count the number using tic marks in a box.")

The surveys followed 50 buses covering 200 routes and transporting roughly 3,000 students a day around the division. Nineteen buses (almost all covering rural routes) recorded zero incidents; the remaining 31 (mostly urban routes) reported the rest.

The seriousness of the issue was highlighted when, as a test case, Lord Selkirk SD recently put temporary video cameras on one of its buses, Munday said, adding the video backed up the drivers' survey. "I stopped counting after 10 people had gone through (the stop sign) at various times on a route."

For Peter Turcotte, who has been driving for the division for 16 years and also works as a bus driver trainer for the division, the results weren't surprising.

"My number is all over the place: sometimes I have a few in a week, sometimes none in a month," he said Tuesday.

"I've seen it all out there. Almost every vehicle (brand) produced goes through our lights... Drivers just aren't aware, and not paying attention in most cases."

Raising that level of attention is the goal of Think of Us on the Bus (the name was borrowed from a similar Alberta school program but Lord Selkirk SD "went our own way" on the content), Munday said. The campaign's three phases are: "Inform, educate and enforce."

"While these statistics are specific to us, they are a problem everywhere across North America, not just in our division... We want to be the ambassadors. We want everybody else to jump on board."

While Munday said there have been no incidents of Lord Selkirk SD students being struck while entering or exiting a bus in recent memory, "It is all about the safety of the kids and supporting the drivers as much as possible."

"Knowing this happens (so frequently) is shocking to me because of how it could potentially impact our community and our kids. If a tragedy happened, that would change everything out here dramatically. We want to make this a big issue before it becomes a big issue," he said.

"Hopefully, this will help prevent something like that from ever happening."

scott.emmerson@freepress.mb.ca

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