With summer winding down and a new school year getting underway, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) is reminding drivers to get reacquainted with sharing the road safely with school buses and the more than 800,000 Ontario school kids who will be crossing roads, getting on and off school buses and walking and biking to and from school.
All too often, drivers let their guard down in school zones during the summer months and with kids heading back to school, and it is important that drivers maintain an acute sense of awareness and expect the unexpected when driving near schools and in neighbourhoods where school buses and school kids are present.
Motorists also need to be mindful that more and more youths are texting and talking on cell phones as they travel to and from school and as such, they are likely to be more inattentive and unaware of their surroundings. Using cell phones while driving is against the law and particularly dangerous in and around school zones where kids are walking and may also be distracted with their cell phones.
The following are a few key safety tips to get drivers and school kids off to a safe start as the school year begins:
- Always stop and never pass a school bus when its upper alternating red lights are flashing, regardless of whether you are behind the bus or approaching it from the front
- Reduce your speed and always keep a safe distance behind school buses as they make frequent stops.
- Always stop for pedestrians at crosswalks and school crossings and obey crossing guards at all times.
In Ontario, more than 800,000 children ride school buses every day on roughly 18,000 school vehicles, and in 2008, the Ontario government implemented mandatory crossing arms on all school buses. In 2010, the government made extra emergency windows and improved side mirrors mandatory.
Ontario drivers need to remember that failing to stop for a school bus is a serious offense, and drivers can be fined up to $2000 and six demerit points.
Bob Chiarelli, the Minister of Infrastructure, Minister of Transportation commented “Help make back-to-school season safe for everyone by driving with caution near schools and school buses. All drivers and cyclists are responsible for keeping children safe – slow down, stay alert and prepare to stop when the red lights are flashing.”
Rick Donaldson, the Executive Director, Ontario School Bus Association stated “School buses are the safest way to get kids to and from school, but it’s not just bus drivers and students who need to keep safety in mind. We ask all drivers to review the rules to ensure safety throughout the school year.”
Bob Nichols, a spokesperson from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) explained that according to research conducted by Transport Canada, “travelling on a school bus is 16 times safer than travelling in the family car based on the number of passengers and kilometres travelled.”
Nichols explained that school vehicle injuries represent less than 2 per cent of total road injuries to young people.
“The law requires all motorists to stop for school buses when the bus is stopped and its overhead warning lights are flashing,” explained Nichols, adding, “Drivers need to pay attention, leave space, and be alert when approaching or passing a school bus.”
Nichols explained that according to the most recent MTO road safety collision statistics, “for the school year 2008/2009 there were 1,193 collisions involving a school bus resulting in 7 fatalities (none of which were students).”
In 2011, there were a total of 370 convictions for failing to stop for a school bus under sections 175(11) and 175(12) of the Highway Traffic Act. The penalties for not stopping range from $400-$2000 and six demerit points for the first offense, and each subsequent offence can range from $1,000- $4,000, six demerit points and possible jail time up to six months.