Drivers’ haste, stupidity are risking students’ lives
“The wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round ....”
Photo by Vince Fedoroff
Top: ONBOARD VIGIL – RCMP officer J-M sauvé rides along in a school bus Wednesday with an unmarked police vehicle trailing to go after drivers who flout the laws governing school bus safety. Bottom: A WITNESS TO RECKLESSNESS – ed oulton has seen drivers pass him with his red lights flashing as he drives his school bus. RCMP officers occasionally ride along, on the alert for dangerous drivers.
“The wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round ....”
And so too do the wheels on cars, minivans, SUVs, trucks and any other number of vehicles at the same time children might be crossing the street to or from school.
All of that is putting safe driving in school zones front and centre in the minds of many who have witnessed driver errors – or recklessness – that could put children’s lives at risk.
“Someone’s going to get hurt,” Steve White, who lives near Grey Mountain Primary School in Riverdale, said in an interview Thursday, adding his fear that someone could be killed if drivers don’t show more responsibility.
Both White and school bus driver Ed Oulton cited the school zone at Alsek Road and Lewes Boulevard as a problem area.
Oulton noted vehicles pass buses which have their flashing red stop lights on when students are getting on and off the bus.
White, meanwhile, has noticed vehicles parking on the Alsek Road crosswalk to the school, others blowing past stop signs and so on.
On Wednesday afternoon, Whitehorse RCMP Const. J-M Sauvé joined Oulton on his afternoon route driving students home from Takhini and Elijah Smith Elementary Schools as well as École Émilie-Tremblay.
As students were dropped off in Valleyview, downtown and then Riverdale, Oulton answered questions from Sauvé about what he sees on his routes.
Following a ways behind the school bus was an unmarked RCMP vehicle ready to pull over anyone passing the bus when its lights were on.
As Sauvé said, the RCMP have been receiving calls from both school bus drivers and members of the public who have seen drivers passing school buses with their red lights illuminated.
While many complaints have come from Riverdale, which also has the city’s highest concentration of schools, Sauvé said it’s not the only neighbourhood with bad driving problems.
“The complaints come from all over in Whitehorse,” he said, noting that such “ride-a-longs” on the school bus are not uncommon and provide the best enforcement options.
It’s difficult for bus drivers to get licence plate numbers from vehicles racing past them, he noted.
“This is the best way,” Sauvé said, adding that along with continued ride-alongs, the information he gained on the hour-long route will help determine where RCMP patrols may happen at certain times of the day in the future.
“It’s the safety of our children,” he stressed.
The officer emphasized the importance of drivers abiding by the rules in school zones and stopping behind school buses flashing their warning lights.
“This is very important,” he said.
As students boarded the bus, Sauvé’s presence, along with that of reporters, garnered more than a few questions from curious youngsters.
As they learned about Sauvé’s work, they wondered how much a driver could be ticketed.
Sauvé took the time to explain a ticket for passing a school bus flashing its red lights is $230.
The police, however, can opt to go through a long-form information process that would bring the matter to court and give a judge the option for a steeper fine.
Whether a driver is summoned to court rather than simply being able to pay the ticket is largely dependent on circumstances, Sauvé said, confirming that among them, a repeat offender could potentially face a higher fine.
As Oulton made his way through Riverdale, stopping the bus to let rosy-cheeked students off to many waiting parents, he recalled one vehicle that continued past his bus when the lights are flashing and children are crossing the street.
As White noted, if drivers simply followed the rules of the road, there wouldn’t be a safety problem.
In one case, when he pointed out to a driver that the vehicle was parking on the cross-walk, he was informed there was no sign prohibiting such a practice.
He pointed out many of those parking there are parents taking their kids to school. It’s almost seems that while they keep their own kids safe, they don’t think about the safety of other children, White added.
While he and his family have also had to deal with their driveway being blocked, he said that’s not his major concern.
A number of drivers also ignore the stop signs at the intersections.
Then there are the parents who cross the street away from the cross-walk, he noted.
White said he has seen some students directing their parents to use the cross-walk to be safe.
He and his family have contacted both RCMP and the city’s bylaw department a number of times about the situation.
While White said he and his family have seen a bylaw officer in the area a few times in the early-morning hours when students are coming to school, he noted there don’t seem to be any tickets being handed out.
He argued that if a couple of tickets were, word would likely spread pretty fast, and perhaps prevent drivers from parking where they shouldn’t.
Bylaw manager Dave Pruden said Thursday that while the RCMP deal with issues around drivers ignoring school buses with their lights flashing, bylaw officers have issued warnings to those parking in crosswalks and the like, looking for compliance.
“Ideally, we don’t issue tickets for that,” he said.
Officers try to stress the importance of student safety and simply gaining compliance from drivers.