PEI

'It's a scary feeling': P.E.I. school bus drivers urge more action on illegal passing

School bus drivers on P.E.I. are calling on police and government to do more to stop drivers from passing buses that have their red lights flashing.

Government says it's working on a solution

Bus drivers say it can be difficult to keep an eye on all the passengers and the mirrors, while trying to nab the licence plate of passing motorists. (John Robertson/CBC)

School bus drivers on P.E.I. are calling on police and government to do more to stop drivers from passing buses that have their red lights flashing.

CUPE 1145 — the union local that represents bus drivers on P.E.I. — did a health and safety survey of its members that showed three per cent of drivers experience someone going through their flashing sign on a daily basis, and many say it happens very often according to Jason MacKinnon, the committee's chair.

"It's a scary feeling. I've had two instances in my eight years of driving where children have been near killed and it's just that that plays through your mind all the time," he said.

Bus driver Jason MacKinnon says it can be frustrating for drivers who do fill out incident reports when nothing seems to come of it. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

When bus drivers see someone breaking the law they are supposed to fill out an incident report and gather as much information as possible. That includes licence plates as well as descriptions of the vehicle and the driver.

That form gets sent to the Public Schools Branch which sends it to police. 

Hard to charge

According to numbers provided by the Department of Education, in the 2017-18 school year there were 132 incident reports submitted by drivers.

While CBC was not provided with a direct comparison for the 2017-18 school year, government did confirm there were 12 convictions in 2017. 

Bus drivers fill out forms for police but say it can be difficult to get all the details when incidents happens so fast. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

RCMP say the discrepancy could be due to the information required to proceed with charges. 

"One fact that became evident, in the almost 50 files I personally reviewed, was that in almost 50 per cent of the time a precise vehicle could not be identified," said Supt. Mac Richards.  

One fact that became evident, in the almost 50 files I personally reviewed, was that in almost 50 per cent of the time a precise vehicle could not be identified.— Supt. Mac Richards

"Primarily no license plate or an incorrect license plate was obtained."

But MacKinnon said for bus drivers, it is nearly impossible to gather that information at the time.

"We have seven mirrors that we are watching all the time, we have anywhere from 50 to 70 students that are either embarking or disembarking on the bus," he said.

Government working on the issue

On Monday, Education and Justice Minister Jordan Brown met with police chiefs, officials from education, transportation, justice and the bus drivers to look at the issue.

Do we remember that when those red lights are on little kids are going to be coming around the corner of that bus into traffic?— Jordan Brown

Brown said education is the first step to prevent the law from being broken. He said some visitors, newcomers or even those who got their licence a long time ago may need reminding.

"Do we know this is the law, do we know why it is the law?" Brown said.

"Do we remember that when those red lights are on little kids are going to be coming around the corner of that bus into traffic?"

Prince Edward Island has one of the highest fines in the country for illegally passing busses while the lights are flashing — from $1,000-$5,000. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Brown said some solutions were put on the table. 

"That would range from front licence plates, to looking to see if there's better camera equipment that can be utilized and that might be able to ... catch the licence plate and hopefully the driver as well," Brown said.

"To have police officers ... committed to a campaign to try and catch these sort of individuals to perhaps having police officers to go on buses from time to time."

Large fines already  

P.E.I. currently has one of the highest fines in the country for passing a school bus illegally, ranging from $1,000-$5,000 and eight demerit points.

Brown, MacKinnon and Richards agree raising the fine wouldn't help. They argue education, enforcement and some new approaches may be needed.

More P.E.I. news

About the Author

Natalia Goodwin

Video Journalist

Natalia is a video journalist in P.E.I. She has also worked for CBC N.L.