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RCMP remind drivers to abide by safety laws

A school bus drops children off after a day of classes in Port aux Basques. — © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press Inc.

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter — with files from René Roy PORT AUX BASQUES — According to Transport Canada, a school bus is the safest transportation option to get kids back and forth to school, but there are always methods to help increase that safety. “School buses are built — inside and out — to protect children. They are painted a distinctive shade of yellow, and are equipped with flashing red lights and a stop arm designed to help children get on and off the bus safely. Governed by some 40 federal regulations and a robust set of standards, school buses also have a series of structural safety features built in that are specifically designed to safeguard children in the event of a collision. For example, they are mandated to have reinforced joints, high roof crush standards, electronic stability control to help prevent rollovers, window retention to mitigate ejection, emergency exit requirements, and a highly effective seat design referred to as compartmentalization. “Even with this excellent safety record, there is room for improvement. As school bus safety is a shared responsibility among federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) governments, school bus operators, and a diverse road safety community, on January 21, 2019, the FPT Council of Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety (Council of Ministers) established an expert Task Force on School Bus Safety, comprised of FPT governments and the full range of school bus safety stakeholders, to identify opportunities to further strengthen school bus safety, with an emphasis on seatbelts.” Transport Canada said the task force spent their time identifying key areas of risk. “The greatest risk to school children is outside the bus, either from the bus itself or from passing motorists. 79 per cent of school aged fatalities involving a school bus occur outside the bus, in or near school bus loading zones. The Task Force’s consensus-based recommendations, informed by existing evidence, focus on supporting the bus driver with the driving task and deterring illegally passing motorists. Specifically, the Task Force recommends that all jurisdictions explore the application of the following safety measures based on their assessed needs:

  1. Infraction Cameras, to help prevent dangerous incidents caused by passing motorists;

  2. Extended Stop Arms, to further deter motorists from passing while children are entering or leaving the bus;

  3. Exterior 360 degree cameras, as a means of better detecting and protecting children and other vulnerable road users around the exterior of the bus; and

  4. Automatic Emergency Braking, to help reduce the severity of a collision or avoid it entirely. Consideration should also be given to exploring ways to pair this feature with other technologies for increased safety.” According to the Government of NL, the Highway Traffic Act has numerous rules outlined that must be observed at all times.

  5. Drivers must obey the posted speed limit in school zones and yield to pedestrians using a crosswalk.

  6. Drivers must not pass a school bus while stopped and must obey the visual signals of the bus driver or the bus, such as the activated stop arm and flashing red or amber lights.

  7. Drivers are required to leave one metre of open space between their vehicle and bicycle or pedestrian where posted speed limits are 60 kilometres per hour or less.

  8. Motorists are also reminded that driving while using a mobile phone or any other hand-held electronic device is illegal and poses a serious safety risk to motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.

In 2016, the Act was amended to increase the penalties for drivers passing a school bus and speeding in a school zone: “Fines for illegally passing a school bus range from $500-$1,200. Excessive speeding in a school zone can lead to vehicle impoundment for up to three days and fines from $400-$1800. The Act has also recently been amended to address impaired driving, distracted driving, excessive speeding, street racing, stunting and other offences.” In Newfoundland and Labrador, school buses are subjected to more meticulous inspection requirements due to the extremely high standards to which they are held. “School buses are thoroughly inspected several times a year. The most recent inspections continue to show high pass ratings for bus operators with 93 per cent of school buses inspected receiving a pass rating, maintaining the industry’s high safety standard.” According to the RCMP, complaints surrounding these type of violations is something that occurs each year. “This year, we have had considerably more complaints in regards to school bus violations. People passing school bus while the signs out, children in the intersection, about to cross the road,” said Corporal Colin Helm. “We are taking these complaints very seriously and we have started following school buses to watch for these violations.” So far this year there have been no incidents of injury resulting from school bus violations. “I understand everybody’s in a rush, everybody needs to get somewhere quick. Some of these decisions may not be people paying attention; however, being on cell phones is definitely a big distraction. As I said, we’re taking these seriously and our number one priority is the children’s safety,” said Helm. There are numerous ways children and parents can ensure they are even more cautious when exiting the bus and crossing the street. “If the stop sign is out, the driver has engaged you to cross the road, still, stop, look and listen before you enter that roadway,” said Helm. For drivers and pedestrians who witness someone illegally passing a bus stop or speeding in a school zone, any evidence obtained should be brought directly to the RCMP who can open an investigation into the complaint. Even though school has only been in session for a few weeks, complaints have already been coming in, but there are appropriate ways to handle the situation. “I’ve had multiple (complaints) reported to me,” said Helm. “I think there’s a proper way to deal with the situation, and I don’t believe it’s through social media. It should come through the RCMP.” Drivers should also be more attentive when getting behind the wheel and near a school bus. “Pay attention and make proper decisions,” said Helm. “We can’t get time back, especially after we’ve created a collision with a child. Let’s think before something bad happens.

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