New Brunswick

Plan to drop front plates 'utterly ridiculous,' say worried school bus drivers

The president of the union representing New Brunswick school bus drivers is concerned that the decision to remove front licence plates from vehicles will make it more difficult for drivers to report break the law.

PCs didn't consult school bus drivers before deciding to scrap requirement for front licence plate

School bus driver's union president Brien Watson said school bus drivers can note the licence plates of some drivers who ignore flashing red lights. (CBC)

Drivers who illegally pass school buses have become an epidemic, and the province is about to make it even easier for offenders, the president of the union representing New Brunswick school bus drivers charged Tuesday.

The Progressive Conservative government plans to drop the requirement for a front licence plant on most vehicles, which school bus drivers say will make it difficult to report drivers who pass buses when the red lights are flashing.

"Leave the plates on the vehicles," said Brien Watson, president of CUPE 1253. "This is just utterly ridiculous."

The union was working with the previous Liberal government to raise awareness of people illegally passing school buses, but the Blaine Higgs government didn't consult the union before it decided to change the rules, Watson said. 

Finance Minister Ernie Steeves announced in this year's budget that front licence plates will no longer be required, probably starting in April. 

The move was pushed by the People's Alliance, whose three members have been supporting the PCs in the legislature. Higgs also promised the change when he was campaigning for election last September.

Illegal passing 'epidemic'

Watson said the number of cars passing buses illegally is at "epidemic" proportions and the change will remove a key part of being able to identify an offending vehicle.

"What are they going to get? Oh, it was a red Honda, it was a red Ford, a black truck.'

"That's all they're going to be able to get because there's no longer something they can identify that vehicle with on the front."

The danger of not respecting flashing red lights was underscored last November, when a five-year-old Irishtown boy was struck by an SUV while he was boarding a bus for school. The driver had come up behind the bus and, after failing to stop, swerved to the right and into the boy. 

Finance Minister Ernie Steeves announced the move to scrap the front licence plate. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

In that case, the driver stopped, and a front licence plate wouldn't have made identification of the vehicle easier anyway, since it was coming from behind.

But Watson said vehicles illegally passing school buses are a daily occurrence bus drivers face.

"There was over 3,000 reported incidences in the province of New Brunswick in one month," Watson said. 

"That's just reported ones. There's a lot that don't go reported."

Following behind?

New Brunswick is one of only four jurisdictions in Canada that retain the use of front licence plates, after the law is passed only Ontario, British Columbia and Manitoba will require them.

Watson said he didn't know how bus drivers in other jurisdictions deal with the issue. He hadn't asked since it wasn't an issue for New Brunswick until now.

But he pointed to stricter penalties for drivers who violate the law in other provinces.

He cited Prince Edward Island, where drivers convicted of passing school buses illegally can be fined $5,000 and lose their licences for three months.

The motorist who hit Goodwin received a $292 fine for illegal passing.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton