Unsafe passing of Palliser school buses on the rise

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More cameras mean more incidents are being reported and ticketed

Bus drivers in Palliser Regional Schools had motorists pass them unsafely and illegally 74 times in the 2016-2017 school year.

That marks a significant increase from a year earlier, when 62 red light fly-bys were reported.

The numbers are a concern for Palliser Transportation Services Supervisor David Shaw, who oversees the division’s 60 daily routes.

“Even one is too many because every one has the potential to put students and bus driver at risk,” he says.

In some municipalities, school buses may be prohibited from using their flashing red or amber lights. However, in all rural areas and almost all municipalities served by Palliser bus drivers, the red lights are used to warn motorists that students may be crossing. When encountering a bus with flashing red lights, traffic in both directions must stop and stay stopped until the lights stop flashing red. 

The reported incidents may be on the rise, Shaw says, because the division continues to add camera systems to its fleet. This year, seven more camera systems will be installed, meaning more than half of the daily routes in Lethbridge and Vulcan counties will be equipped.

Those cameras collect video from inside and outside the school bus, and other data including bus speed. The video evidence and help from law enforcement has contributed to more than four dozen motorists being ticketed last year.

This year, some of the cameras will be permanently placed on buses in Vulcan County for the first time. 

Shaw says the emphasis to this point has been to equip cameras in the Lethbridge area, where higher traffic volumes mean higher incidence rates. All 12 buses serving Coaldale have camera systems on board and those routes have the highest number of reported incidents. Sunnyside School routes, just outside Lethbridge, came in second last year, and the Picture Butte area was the third hot spot.

The majority of incidents this past year involved a vehicle coming toward the bus on a two-lane road or highway failing to stop.  Despite the stop sign and flashing red lights, Shaw says oncoming drivers may simply not realize they’re required to stop as well.

Ignorance won’t save a motorist from the potential $544 ticket and six demerits for failing to stop.

Shaw says the safety problem isn’t localized. The National Association of Pupil Transportation in the U.S. recently held a first-day-of-school count in 29 states, with 73,000 fly-bys reported, an alarming 2,000 involving vehicles passing a bus on the right side — directly where students would be getting on or off.

The need for drivers to approach school buses with caution has been driven home dramatically in Palliser. In October 2015, a minivan hit the back of a stopped school bus, a collision that proved fatal to a passenger in the minivan. The bus driver and students were not injured. A year later, a passing truck lost control, hitting a bus and sending it rolling into the ditch. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

“It just takes a second for things to go wrong,” Shaw says. “It doesn’t take long to stop for the flashing red lights but that time can save a life.”

This fall marks the sixth annual Think of Us on the Bus safety campaign. Started in Palliser, with support from law enforcement and traffic safety partners, the public awareness campaign encourages motorists to think of the precious cargo on school buses and drive with caution.

For more on bus safety, including a quiz for drivers about the rules of the road, please visit our Think of Us on the Bus page.