Every school morning Amy Ingram drops her two kids off at the bus stop near Scott’s Taxi on Main Street.
What should be a simple, routine task for this mother has instead become a worry.
Ingram has noted an increase in the number of vehicles that have passed her children’s school bus when her boys are being picked up or dropped off.
On one occasion, two separate drivers chose to pass the bus.
“The doors were open on the bus. The kids were getting ready to come down the stairs, and the first car went through,” recalls Ingram.
She says both she and the bus driver were still taken aback by that when a second car passed by almost immediately after.
“It was so fast.”
Although she recognized one driver, Ingram had to get her kids to an appointment and couldn’t call the RCMP right away. She did, however, speak with them afterwards to report the infraction and give a statement.
An amendment to the Highway Traffic Act in 2016 allows the registered owner of a vehicle passing a school bus with its lights flashing to be charged and incur a fine ranging from $500 to $1,200, whether or not the vehicle’s owner is even driving at the time.
Only a license plate number is required for a ticket and a conviction. prior to the amendment, a witness had to identify the driver in court.
After she spoke to the RCMP, Ingram took to Facebook and the Port Aux Basques and Area Open Forum warning others to be careful.
Others reported similar experiences.
“When you a see a bus stopped, the red lights are flashing, the stop sign is out, the barricade is out, kids are getting off the bus and people just go on through,” says Ingram. “At this bus stop alone, since December, I’ve seen it three times, so can you imagine all the other bus stops?”
Ingram says she witnessed illegal passing only once or twice last year and didn’t give it much thought, believing it to be uncommon.
Now she sees it happening much more often, and she doesn’t pretend to understand why it’s happening so often, either.
“Obviously they’re (drivers) just not paying attention,” she said. “You come by in the morning, this type of morning, it’s dark. It’s dingy. You see these red lights just flashing and people just go on through.”
Ingram says in the past, the bus driver has shouted warnings to the kids when he believes a car will pass, but as his attention is focused on the children, he’s not usually able to read a license plate. And beyond trying to caution the children, there’s not much more a driver can do to help from behind the wheel.
“The other day the kids were already on the sidewalk. So, what if one of them ran and went behind the bus?”
Although she has received support for drawing attention to the issue, she has also been chided for speaking out.
“What if it was your kid? And what if the time happens when somebody ran him over?”
One of the parents who shared a similar experience on Ingram’s Facebook post was Jennifer Janes. Her five-year-old daughter is attending kindergarten this year, and her bus stop is near the T-intersection formed by Caribou Road, High Street and the overpass that leads to Marine Atlantic.
“People travel at a heavy speed along here anyway. It’s a little bit of a higher-speed zone,” said Janes, who has seen people pass by her daughter’s bus on several occasions, including again last week. “It’s the main drag, basically.”
Janes even reached out to the town for help. “I wanted to know if they would install a bus stop sign or something, warning drivers that there is a school bus stop ahead.”
Janes says the town told her that is not something it can do.
Mayor John Spencer is as concerned as any parent about safety. The former educator reached out to the Gulf News via email.
“In a previous life as an educator, I witnessed, and filed reports, relating to incidents of vehicle-bus safety. And yes, despite what we would like to think, there were drivers, young and old, whose brains seemed to be on auto-pilot in relation to safe practices around school buses.”
Spencer doesn’t believe the solution is simple, nor does he feel confident more signage is the solution.
“We have signs for speed zones that get ignored. There are signs for designated parking that get ignored. There are signs for restricted parking zones that are ignored. There are multiple bus stops all over town.
“On the street (on) which I live there are two separate bus stops alone. Will more signs discourage distracted driving, reduce impatience, reduce speed? I would love for the answer to be yes, but that is not reality.”
Spencer witnessed a near-miss at a busy intersection lately between a car and a truck. “When asked about the near-miss the driver of the car was bewildered with no explanation for not seeing the approaching truck.”
Instead, the Port aux Basques mayor offered the following advice as part of an overall solution. “Innovations such as flashing roof top strobe lights and cameras on the extended stop arm should be mandatory for all buses.”
Ingram loves the idea of camera on the buses too. “A lot of bigger cities have them. It would be a great asset,” she said.
“You’d think a big yellow school bus with its lights flashing would be indicator enough for drivers to stop but apparently it’s not,” said Janes, who believes even one driver passing the bus is too many.
“I’ve seen it happening around town, and hear people talking about it.”
Janes says children aren’t aware of dangers the way adults are, and that distracted driving is largely to blame for these incidents.
“When you walk you notice all these people that are looking at their laps (while) driving,” said Janes, who doesn’t drive. “There’s a lot of people on their cell phone.”
Janes believes it’s likely that eventually a child will be struck by a vehicle illegally passing a school bus.
“I think people need a reminder to be aware and to pay attention to the roads because you can’t say ‘Oops. I’m sorry. I hit someone’s kid.’ It could be fatal.”
In response to inquiries from The Gulf News, the NLESD issued the following statement.
Student safety is a priority for all employees of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District across the entire province.
The administration at St. James Elementary recognized some concerning behaviour from drivers and have taken steps to ensure parents, guardians and visitors to the school practice appropriate behaviors on and around the parking lot. This included erecting barriers to create specific lanes.
Since then, the school has noted an improved flow of traffic in the lot, with priority being given to the school bus lane for loading and unloading students for the day. Before the barriers, there were numerous instances of people not observing the flashing lights of the buses and vehicles blocking or crossing the path of buses when entering and exiting the area. During Winter months these are removed for snow clearing purposes.
The school has also sent home messages reminding parents and guardians of the proper parking lot and busing procedures and have asked these messages be shared with anyone who may have reason to be on the school parking lot. Newfoundland and Labrador English School District schools have a good working relationship with the local RCMP, who regularly visit St. James Elementary to check on traffic behaviour in and around the parking lot. The District also encourages anyone seeing concerning unsafe activity on school parking lots to report it to school administration or a District office.
It is not uncommon for schools to take such action to ensure safety of students and visitors while on the parking lot.
We certainly encourage any member of the public who witnesses illegal activity and activity that puts students at risk to report that activity to the police.