Another school year has just begun, and I typically welcome the chance to shuffle my kids off to school. But this year I pause as I am reminded of the school bus incident in May 2012 when a child was struck by a passing vehicle while boarding a school bus. Fortunately it was reported that this child received only minor injuries.
However, this was not an isolated incident in Prince Albert. Back in 2009, another young child was struck by a passing vehicle while unloading from a school bus and was reported to have sustained more severe injuries.
In both cases, the children were only six years old. As a concerned parent of young school aged children I ask myself, how could this have happened? Could these incidents have been prevented? Didn't the bus use its stop arm and flashing lights?
I was shocked to learn that the City of Prince Albert has a bylaw (Bylaw No. 54 of 1983) that prohibits the use of school bus safety lights and stop arms within the city limits. This bylaw is legal under both the provincial Traffic Safety Act and the School Bus Operation Regulations (1987).
Even the SGI Driver's Handbook indicates that many communities have these bylaws in place, and drivers are allowed to pass a stopped school bus with caution.
Most major urban centers including Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Regina also have instituted this bylaw.
In my research, I've had the opportunity to discuss this issue with people from key organizations such as the Highway Traffic Board, Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI), Hertz Northern Bus, and the City of Prince Albert bylaw manager, all of whom agree that bus safety lights are effective and are all in favour for the lights to be used.
So the questions remain: Why was this bylaw put in place? Are those reasons still justifiable in our society today, almost 30 years later?
In the reports associated with the bylaw, it was believed that to have the school buses flash their lights and require all traffic to stop “would be a major impediment to the reasonable free flow of traffic and could even be a safety problem as many vehicle operators would not recognize the necessity to stop in the city limits. The delays would be unreasonable and create additional safety problems.”
This is Prince Albert; it isn’t Toronto. Part of the beauty of Prince Albert is the 10-minute commute. Stopping for school buses during morning commute might add two minutes.
My children are worth two minutes; are yours?
Another reason presented to me was that Prince Albert would be an anomaly among Saskatchewan municipalities and children would be at greater risk as visiting drivers would be unaware of the purpose of the safety lights and their meaning.
School bus lights are mandatory outside of city limits and in other city centres such as North Battleford. So the argument that drivers are not educated falls a bit flat.
Finally, the argument that safety lights provide a false sense of security to school bus passengers is out of step with safety requirements continentally. I am sure the same argument was used when seat belts became mandatory about the same time in the ’80s. I would doubt anyone these days would argue that seat belts do not save lives.
I would argue that Prince Albert and Saskatchewan are the anomaly in not universally requiring the use of school bus safety lights as almost all jurisdictions in North America require their use. The evidence for this is in the fact that you cannot buy a school bus without this safety equipment much like you cannot by a car without headlights or wipers: they are standard safety features.
There was no risk mitigation analyses performed prior to enacting this bylaw. Bylaw no. 54 was implemented in 1983; a time before texting, cell phones and other electronic distractions; and a time where only 53 per cent of mothers were in the working force and the other 47 per cent walked their kids to school.
Statistics Canada Census data shows that Prince Albert population has increased by about 5,000 people since 1981. Since the population of school children remained the same, it can be inferred that this increase represents the driving population and therefore an increase in roadway activity.
Frankly the reasons that have been presented to justify the current bylaw might have had some merit 30 years ago, but they ring a bit hollow today. It all comes down to the fact that there are two victims of an incident that could have been prevented.
This is two too many. Will the next one be fatal? Will the next one be your child?
What would it take to remove the bylaw?
Apart from a little bit of vision and courage on the part of current council this bylaw could be off the book in time for the second month of the new school year. It would be hard to argue against providing safety for our children particularly in an election year. Some enforcement of scofflaws would be required but a few public instances of tickets being given is usually enough to encourage general compliance. There would have to be unified support by the French Immersion, Public and Catholic School Boards to initiate a change.
For the respect of our young victims and future ones, it is worth the while to re-evaluate the purpose of this bylaw.
We need to ask ourselves, what is more important; drivers getting to their destination on time or ensuring that our children survive to see tomorrow?
Cynthia Mamer and Lori Stevenson