Maria Peterson has never seen a child hit by a passing vehicle while boarding or disembarking from her school bus. But she’s seen enough close calls to make her fear that she might soon witness just such an incident.
In the past few months Peterson, who drives one of the buses that transports youngsters to and from the Francophone École les Aiglons, has recently seen a number of drivers travelling in the opposite direction on Buckley Avenue drive by her bus, even with the bus’s “stop” lights and signage fully engaged.
Failing to stop for a school bus is an offence under the Motor Vehicle Act that carries a $167 fine and three demerit points. But whether it’s caused by ignorance of the law or simple inattentiveness, Peterson worries that someone — most likely a youngster — is going to get seriously hurt if drivers don’t wise up.
“I’ve never had anyone pass me from behind, but traffic coming towards me is the problem,” Peterson said. “I’ve had a lady realize it and stop when she was next to the bus, so the kids had to go around the bar, do an ‘S’ turn to get around her car and then go forward.”
Sometimes, “I put my yellow lights on 15 to 20 metres before I stopped, then I stop, open the door, red light goes on, kids get out, cars are still coming, first car goes, second car goes by, third car goes by — and they were going fast,” Peterson said. “And it’s not just the lights on the sign. It’s the full set of lights going off.
“I know that people have moments when they don’t make good decisions, but this is something that really needs to be fixed.”
Bus drivers are instructed to record the licence-plate numbers of vehicles that don’t comply, said Peterson, who drives for a company contracted to transport students for the province-wide Francophone school board. But that’s not always the easiest thing to do, she said.
Pam Temple-Hurley, supervisor of transportation and grounds, Squamish area, with the Sea to Sky School District, said that so far during the 2012-’13 school year, the frequency of such incidents involving District 48 drivers “is about the same as we’ve been seeing in previous years.”
Still, she said, “It’s an ongoing problem. What we see is it doesn’t matter what direction the car is coming from — if a car has an opportunity to go past the bus in spite of the lights flashing, sometimes it will. We’ve even seen a few try to pass our bus on the right.
“We’ve seen some very close calls, for sure.”
Peterson, who normally only activates her bus’s warning-light system on Buckley Avenue, said about half the drivers she has seen drive past the bus illegally were adults and half appeared to be young drivers from nearby Howe Sound Secondary School. Based on her experience, she wondered aloud whether people’s driver training included at least a mention of the issue.
“If they’re lucky, the question comes up in the written test and they may or may not know how to answer it,” she said.
Said Temple-Hurley, “When we have people go past our buses we do our best to make them aware right on the spot. If we don’t feel we’ve made them understand, then we will attempt to get their licence number and report them to RCMP.”
Cst. Melanie Zonderland, the local RCMP’s community-school liaison, on Friday (Feb. 1) said she wasn’t aware that this was a problem before The Chief phoned. Still, she said, it’s definitely something police plan to watch for in the coming weeks.
Drivers should be aware that they’re not scot-free even if they don’t get stopped out on the road, Zonderland said. If a vehicle licence plate number is phoned in to police, “we can certainly go follow up and if a ticket seems warranted, we can certainly issue one,” she said.
She said she planned to ask Howe Sound Secondary School officials to include a mention of the issue in school newsletters and announcements.
“I’m certain we will keep a vigilant eye out for drivers passing school buses illegally and enforce accordingly,” Zonderland said.