School bus drivers around the Central Okanagan routinely report drivers passing their school bus while the bus is stopped with red lights flashing, attempting to safely drop or pick-up school children.
In fact, school bus drivers report at least one incident per day on average during the school season when a vehicle will put kids in danger by passing while the bus lights are flashing.
And those are just the incidents where the driver can actually write down the license plate and the make and model of the vehicle and report it to the police.
“If we have 185 incidents in a year that’s 185 incidents too many,” said Dave Misener, Central Okanagan School District tranpsortation manager. “We have many more (incidents) but these are just the ones that the driver is able to make out the license plate number and the make and model. A school bus driver’s first priority is the safety of the students so they can’t always report vehicles.”
Students from Pearson Road Elementary gathered at their school on Monday morning to display artwork they created to put the spotlight on school bus safety in and around the Central Okanagan’s 43 schools.
There are 65 bus routes in the district, spanning from Lake Country to Peachland and even to Big White as buses head out each school day to pick up and drop off students.
“The theme of School Bus Safety Week is #StopOnRed. We want the public to be aware of this issue,” said Misener. “It’s not a surprise. School buses are out Monday to Friday. When they put their flashing ambers on that’s a warning that the flashing reds are coming and you have to stop to allow children to cross the street. Some people aren’t paying attention and others are going too fast.”
The Central Okanagan transportation department always tries to pick and drop off students on the right side of the street. However it’s not always possible to safely drop kids off and many will cross roads immediately, said Misener. That’s why it’s critical vehicles stop on red.
But it’s not happening on a regular basis, said RCMP constable Steve Holmes of the Kelowna traffic department.
“We get an average of 150 to 180 incidents in a year and those are only the ones that are reported, it’s not indicative of the greater number of incidents,” said Holmes. “For some people it’s blatant disregard: The bus driver will hit the horn, or stick his arm out the window and people will see it and still go through. Drivers (today) are very distracted and everyone has time constraints”
School Bus Safety Week runs Feb. 1 to 5 in the district as part of its education campaign for drivers and for students. The district has a bus safety program taught to all students in Grades 1 to 3 in September of each year, teaching the “ABC’s of School Bus Safety” to its youngest students with the object of cultivating safety-minded school bus passengers.
But its a segment of drivers of other vehicles who continue to disobey the law.
“Drivers tend to ignore these signals and they need to pay attention,” said school board trustee Chris Gorman. “When they see the lights they need to stop on red.”