Elderly school bus drivers no longer forced to take annual tests under proposed changes

Liberals considering change to eliminate annual driving test for school bus drivers over 60-years-old, making good on a supposed request from school districts and bus drivers.

Department proposes regulation to let school bus drivers stay on the job after the age of 65

The Liberal government is considering the elimination of annual driving tests for school bus drivers over the age of 60. (CBC)

The Gallant government is considering the elimination of annual driving tests for an increasingly elderly corps of school bus drivers.

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development has published a proposed regulation to let school bus drivers stay on the job after the age of 65 and eliminate yearly driving tests.

The existing regulations say a school bus driver has to be between 21 and 65 years old, and drivers between the ages of 60 and 65 must have an annual medical exam and driver's exam.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development said in an email statement the changes "would bring the age requirements in line with the New Brunswick Motor Vehicle Act."

Kelly Cormier said under the Motor Vehicle Act, "drivers are not required to do a driver exam after their initial test giving them their licence."

She confirmed the change "would eliminate the requirement that school bus drivers over the age of 60 must take a driver exam every year.

"This is something school districts and school bus drivers have been asking for and the proposed change would bring us in line with most other jurisdictions in Canada."

Union confused

But Brien Watson, the president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1253, the union representing school bus drivers, said the request to eliminate the driving test did not come from him.

"I'm not really aware of that, that it's getting rid of all testing," Watson said.

. "That's new to me, then. That's new to me."

'My question right now is: why?"- MLA Trevor Holder

Watson said the union had asked for changes to the written test to make it specific to school buses, but it was not against road testing.

"Seasoned drivers have no problem with that, they're fine with that," he said.

He said CUPE 1253 "was never consulted on any of that. So when they said that the union is involved in all this, that's false comment. … I think there's some miscommunication going on here."

District official surprised

At least one school district official was also taken by surprise by the proposed change.

Aubrey Kirkpatrick, the director of finance and administration for the Anglophone West School District, said he believed driving tests would continue, but less frequently.

Education Minister Brian Kenny refused to do an interview about the changes. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)
"That's how we were told it was going to work," he said.

He said he "absolutely" believed driving tests for school bus drivers should continue, though he said the district has "the ability to do our own version of testing and training."

The existing regulations also require an annual medical exam.

That requirement is being changed so that drivers need medical exams every four years until age 45, every two years until age 65 and every year after the age 65.

MLA response

Education Minister Brian Kenny refused to do an interview about the changes Tuesday and Wednesday.

The proposed regulatory changes are posted on a government website for draft regulations.

They also caught the Progressive Conservative opposition by surprise.

"This is complete news to us," said PC MLA Trevor Holder.

"I have more questions than answers on it right now. Obviously the safety and security of our children is first and foremost, and that's what we should be concerned about.

"My question right now is: Why? It's certainly something, now that we've learned this, that we'll be asking government."

PC MLA Trevor Holder is left with more questions than answers about the changes. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Holder said if the goal is to treat school bus drivers the same as regular drivers, who are not required to take repeated driving tests, that's not a good reason for the change.

"There's a huge difference [with] a driver who's responsible for the safety and security of our children every day," he said.

Holder said it makes sense to eliminate the mandatory retirement age of 65, but not to eliminate driving tests.

"We're certainly going to be asking some tough questions on this," he said.

Green Party Leader David Coon was also unaware of the proposed amendments.

"It seems surprising to me that they would make those kinds of changes," he said.

"These are the kinds of things that should come forward to the legislature so that we can have some kind of discussion about that."

About the Author

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

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