David Warner and Jayne Block

Sheriff David Warner was aboard driver Jayne Block's school bus when a vehicle ignored the bus's flashing amber lights and cruised past when the red lights were flashing.

Even one red light violation is too many

It was February 2012 when Sheriff David Warner told the first meeting of Palliser Regional Schools’ bus safety committee about his proposal for an enforcement blitz.

Modelled on something similar in New York state, Warner suggested Alberta Sheriffs could ride on some Palliser buses to help identify drivers who ignore the amber and red flashing lights on buses.

“At that first meeting, I remember we said ‘Even if we get one violator, that will be enough,’ ” Warner recalls. “Even getting one is too many.”

Flash forward seven months. The four-week Think of Us on the Bus safety campaign was in its final two days. Warner was aboard a school bus with students from Picture Butte on their ride home.

Bus driver Jayne Block had entered Highway 25 heading west out of town. Traffic was heavier than normal, so she turned on her amber lights, to warn other drivers that she was preparing to stop.

Despite at least 15 to 20 seconds of the ambers flashing, a tractor-trailer unit failed to heed the warning, cruising by the bus as it stopped to drop off a student.

By the time the red lights started flashing, the truck was still travelling at about 70 km/h.

Block says Warner leapt off the bus to get a better look at the truck as it sped away. A quick call to a fellow sheriff nearby resulted in the truck driver being pulled over and charged.

“That makes me feel like it was worth everything the sheriff’s department put into the week,” Block says. “I hope the public learned something from this. I hope this guy that got the ticket learned something from this.

“People have to realize this is somebody’s child on that bus.”

For Warner, the experience was the final stamp of success on a campaign of enforcement and public and student education.

“It showed us the success of the operation,” he says. “If we weren’t around, how would you have ever caught that guy? You wouldn’t. It’s impossible.”

That frustration isn’t lost on Block and other bus drivers who describe feeling helpless when drivers ignore the red flashing lights and stop arm. Without front plates on vehicles, and with the bus driver’s attention focused on ensuring students are safe, there’s not time to catch a detailed description of the vehicle, let alone a licence plate.

Gratified that an offender was caught, Block had no shortage of praise for members of the sheriffs who took part in the enforcement blitz.

“It just meant a lot,” she says. “I felt like they really care, and they were good with the kids. The kids got to see that these are not the bad guys. These are the good guys.”

Warner, who also participated in bus safety assemblies at nearly a dozen Palliser elementary and middle schools, says Think of Us on the Bus was a success all around.

“It’s a win-win for everybody involved — the schools, public safety, the motoring public, parents, teachers, bus drivers. It sets the bar for traffic safety in the school environment,” he says.

Originally published in October 2012