Ken Hales is a retired RCMP officer who these days drives school bus No. 13 in Sooke.
After several years of ensuring the children in his charge make it to school safely, Hales is speaking out.
“People see the stop sign on a school bus, and far too often they just blow by the bus, not caring that they are putting children at risk,” Hales said.
“It really is a miracle – amazing luck – that a child hasn’t been seriously hurt or even killed by one of these drivers.”
School buses are equipped with stop signs, complete with flashing lights, that extend from the bus when they are stopped to either load or unload children at designated locations along their route. Motorists on both sides of the roadway are required by law to stop and remain stopped until the stop sign is folded back, signalling that it it’s safe to proceed.
“The basic rule is, ‘when we stop, you stop,’ said Tracy Syrota, the transportation manager for the Sooke School District.
“Kids are unpredictable. You might see children lined up at the passenger side of the bus, but there may also be a child who is running late who will dart across the road to that bus, thinking that they’re safe.”
But those children are not safe.
Speaking on Thursday, Syrota said after only three days of school, there have already been nine reported instances in Sooke of drivers ignoring school bus stop signs and passing the buses, heedless of the risk they pose to the community’s children.
But those drivers are in for a rude awakening.
“Our buses are almost all equipped with cameras now. They capture the offence as well as a video of the car that passes a bus,” Syrota said.
That film (along with a still photo of the license plate) is provided to the RCMP who in turn will be paying a visit to the scofflaw drivers to present them with a violation under Section 149 of the Motor Vehicle Act. The ticket will cost the driver $369 and will result in three points on the driver’s record.
“It (passing a school bus) is a very dangerous and irresponsible thing to do,” said Sgt. Clayton Wiebe of the Sooke RCMP.
“We’re aware of a few areas, like Grant Road, for example, where it can be a real problem and we monitor those areas when we can. But the cameras have really helped in enforcement.”
Hales, however, isn’t convinced that the fines are enough to deter drivers from their reckless behaviour.
“People just pay the fine and get on with life. What needs to happen is that this offence should result in an automatic license suspension for a month,” Hales said.
“Otherwise, this is just going to keep happening. until someone is killed.”
While Syrota shares the frustration of her bus drivers, she believes the key is education.
“We have to educate motorists about the law and make them understand that these children are truly a precious cargo. There is just no excuse for putting them at risk, just to save a minute or two on a drive.”