There were a fleet of school buses flashing their red lights across shopping centres in Fort St. John today, but there’s a reason for that: Safe Stop Coordinator Cindy Dettling and other bus drivers are drawing attention to unsafe drivers passing school buses with flashing red lights far too frequently.
“Its a serious issue. They do it all the time. It happened to me three times in one morning in the space of five minutes,” she said. “What they’re not getting is that we’re not stopping to tick people off. We’re loading kids. When my red lights are on, there’s kids on the highway.”
Passing a school bus with flashing red lights is illegal and can result in a $167 fine in British Columbia, as well as 3 points on your drivers license. That sounds like a lot to pay, but drivers in this province are getting a cheaper deal compared to Alberta’s fine of $400, and Ontario’s can range from $400 to $2000, depending on previous driving infractions.
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“We’re way too low.” said former bus driver Donna Gregoire. “$167 doesn’t cut it. To me, I think it should be $500 for first (offence), $1000 for second – because they repeat over and over.”
To put in perspective, coasting in the left lane and preventing other drivers from being able to pass is the same fine.
For this reason, Dettling is putting pressure on the government to increase the fine to $368, and 6 points on someone’s license.
No accidents have been reported in BC yet, but there have been many close calls.
The Transportation Department of School District No. 60 kept track of drivers who passed stopped school buses from April 15th to June 25th of this year.
In those 50 days that school buses ran, 51 infractions were reported.
“There’s less children killed in North America riding the school bus than there are walking to school,” says Transportation Supervisor Mike Fitzgerald. “But when people start driving through red lights, it takes the safety right out of. They don’t know if a kid is going to step out from behind the bus.”
Over 2200 children ride the bus to and from school in this district. Dettling says at least a third of them usually have to cross a highway or road to get to their house.