Older school buses would be retrofitted with a new flashing light system to boost safety under a private member’s bill from Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris.
He argues a dual (amber-red) system is better, warns drivers that a school bus is slowing to a stop, helping them avoid illegally passing the bus, and making kids safer as they cross. When buses are getting ready to stop for kids boarding or departing, the lights would turn amber – just like a traffic light – to signal drivers that they should begin slowing down. Once the bus stops, the lights then turn red as a clear indication to drivers that they should stop moving.
The majority of buses in the province today use a flashing red system with a stop sign arm that extends, with Ontario the only jurisdiction on the continent still using that system. While most newer buses are already equipped with the dual lamp system, older buses dating back to 2005 do not.
Harris said his bill would see the province catch up with the rest of the country.
His private member’s bill grew from a petition started by a group called Let’s Remember Adam, dedicated to school bus safety in memory of Adam Ranger, a young boy who lost his life getting off a school bus in 2000.
“It was brought to me via those folks, and it was my pleasure, of course, to read it into the legislature. Once I started doing a little bit more digging on it, I figured out what it was all about,” said Harris, who noted he has five children of his own. “My one son, when school is in session and we’re having classes in person, he takes the school bus every day. So, this for me obviously is something near and dear to my heart and I wanted to see it done. I’m taking the bull by the horns and we’re going to get this across the finish line.”
Now an advocate to get the dual-lamp system put onto buses across the province, Harris says he is unsure why it has taken the province so long to put this forward and make it happen.
“It’s something that’s been talked about for decades, and I’m not sure really what the real hold up on doing something like this was. Usually, Ontario is on the forefront of what’s happening, especially when we talk about safety.”
Harris estimated the cost of retrofitting existing buses at about $2 million.
A study by Transport Canada shows that across all road conditions – high traffic, multiple lanes, weather, and the like – there was a consistent 11 per cent reduction in speed with dual lamps compared to the all-red system. When there were two lanes of oncoming traffic, the amber-red system reduced the speed of oncoming vehicles by 64 per cent compared to the all-red system which reduced speed by 48 per cent.
Likewise, there were fewer stopping violations with the new system, 2.8 per cent versus 4.3 per cent with the old system.
If the bill passes, operators and manufacturers would likely have about a year and a half before the new system became mandatory.
Nancy Daigneault, executive director of School Bus Ontario (SBO), welcomed the move.
“Safety is definitely our number-one priority, always has been, always will be. So, we’ll always embrace anything that will enhance safety, especially since other jurisdictions have moved toward this already. So, we think this is just very welcome, we’re pleased that he has advocated for this, and we’re looking forward to seeing it introduced and passed,” said Daigneault.
She says the majority of buses in the province will need this update in order to be in compliance.
Currently, so-called “blow-bys” – where a driver illegally passes a school bus with the stop sign out – take place across the province every day, she said, adding anything that can be done to reduce such occurrences is a good thing.
Drivers can be charged if they pass a stopped school bus with its upper red lights flashing and/or stop arm activated. Fines for the first offence range from $400 to $2,000, with six demerit points. Each following offence sees fines rise to $1,000-$4,000, six demerit points and possible jail time (up to six months). Vehicle owners can be charged if their vehicle illegally passes a stopped school bus, even if they weren’t driving.
As of September, the province had made it easier for municipalities to set up school bus stop arm cameras, streamlining the prosecution of camera offences to help ensure violators are penalized.