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Amber-red system of flashing lights on school buses in Ontario could help save lives

The Ontario School Bus Association has been lobbying the government for years to change the system of flashing lights on school buses says the group's safety and legislation consultant, Alex Bugeya.

Ontario the only jurisdiction in North America without amber-red system of lights on school buses

The amber-red light system on school buses is used in every jurisdiction across North America except Ontario, says Alex Bugeya of the Ontario School Bus Association. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

February 11, 2020 marked the 20th anniversary of the death of five-year-old Adam Ranger from Mattawa. He was killed getting off his school bus on his way home.

Adam's brother Pierre, says one of the things that could help prevent such needless deaths would be amber flashing lights on buses to warn drivers they need to stop.

Alex Bugeya says his group has been lobbying the government for years to make the change to a different system of flashing lights on school buses. Bugeya is a safety and legislation consultant with the Ontario School Bus Association. It's a non-profit organization that represents those involved with student transportation.

Bugeya says while it's hard to pin down any statistics, drivers who don't stop for school buses continue to be a problem.

"You know we have some urban areas, for example, where we have anecdotal evidence that this is happening dozens of times per route per bus per day," said Bugeya.

Passing a stopped school bus with its upper red lights flashing is illegal in Ontario. Fines for a first offense range up to $2,000. It can also result in a significant number of demerit points. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

Bugeya explains that people ignore the flashing lights on a school bus for a combination of reasons. One of them is inattention. 

"Unfortunately, we have a society where sometimes driving doesn't get the due attention that it deserves and we have folks who are distracted both mentally and physically," he explained.

The second reason is people who are just in a rush. Bugeya says he hopes they are in the minority. 

"The school bus is kind of in the way, slowing them down, and so they may just choose to take a calculated risk and pass the bus," said Bugeya. "Either way it's a significantly unsafe act with a high, high degree of risk for that student as they are going to be getting on and off that bus," he added.

Passing a stopped school bus with its upper red lights flashing is illegal in Ontario. "Fines in Ontario for a first offense range up to $2,000. For subsequent offenses, that goes up from there," said Bugeya. "It's also something which can result in a significant number of demerit points on your license."

Drivers who don't stop for school buses continue to be a significant problem according to the Ontario School Bus Association. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Bugeya explains that there are two phases to a school bus stopping when children are getting on or off the bus.

The warning phase is when the school bus is slowing down to approach the stop.

"So, while this is taking place, the school bus is going to activate its overhead lights as it's slowing to that stopping position," said Bugeya. "The law says that during this phase, while the school bus is still in motion, it is permissible to pass the school bus."

Once the school bus actually comes to a full and complete stop with the overhead lights flashing, a motorist is no longer permitted to pass the bus.

Bugeya says there's confusion in Ontario as to when a motorist can and cannot pass a school bus because the lights activated by the bus for the warning phase and the stopping phase are the same colour — red.

"There is actually a system that's in use in every jurisdiction across North America except for Ontario, which is known as the amber-red system," said Bugeya. "The warning phase uses amber lights and then the stopping phase uses red lights, which is more intuitive for the general public as that's kind of what we're used to seeing with traffic lights," he added.

Bugeya said that the Ontario School Bus Association has been advocating for the amber-red system for many years. 

"I will say we've been engaged in continual talks with the current government and they've been very receptive to this system. But at this point we're still in a wait and see mode," said Bugeya.

You can still see his face on billboards across the north in the campaign called "Let's Remember Adam: Stop for the School Bus." It's the 20th anniversary of the tragic death of five-year-old Adam Ranger, who was killed getting off his school bus in Mattawa. The CBC's Markus Schwabe revisited Adam's story... and how people passing stopped school buses is still a problem. 10:58

With files from Markus Schwabe

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