School bus signals spark provincewide debate

With schools open or soon to open across Saskatchewan, some communities are trying to decide what to do about school bus warning signals.

With schools open or soon to open across Saskatchewan, some communities are trying to decide what to do about school bus warning signals.

The standard yellow school bus has signal lights and a "stop arm" that swings out when the bus is stopped and children are crossing.

But a number of Saskatchewan communities have decided this gives a false sense of security and have banned the use of such signals.

Regina and Saskatoon don't allow the signals to be used.

The same ban applies in North Battleford, but it's under dispute.

Wendy Powell, who has been driving a school bus for four years, is behind an Oct. 28 referendum on whether to allow the signals again.

Currently in the city, school buses use their ordinary four-way flashers when they stop to let children on and off, which Powell says sends the wrong message to other drivers. 

"In anybody's eyes, four-way flashers [means] you're stalled," she said. "Then all of a sudden a kid comes out and tries to cross the street."

Across the river in the town of Battleford, school bus drivers can use their stop arms and flashing safety signals.

Elsewhere in the province, the rules vary.

Three years ago the City of Yorkton lifted its prohibition on stop arms, except in school zones, the intent being to keep traffic flowing, city clerk Bonnie Schenher said.

"Just because there's so many parents also dropping off children right at the schools … it could really have a backup there," she said.

In Weyburn, the debate rages on. That city used to have a ban, until a year ago after one child was almost run over and her mother took up a petition.

Mayor Debra Button said that since then, bus drivers have been reporting a lot more near-misses — and now they are petitioning to reverse the decision.

Button would like the provincial government to bring in one rule for everywhere.

Saskatchewan School Boards Association president Roy Challis said that with so many different rules depending on location, it's confusing for bus drivers, especially when they're taking students on field trips or to games away from home.

"They run into communities where they don't know what the rules are."

June Draude, the minister responsible for Saskatchewan Government Insurance, which deals with traffic safety rules, said the province needs to sort out the confusing situation, with the safety of children the paramount consideration.

"There's probably studies being undertaken that we could be looking at and we definitely will," Draude said.