MLA Pat Dunn wants to see drivers who pass a stopped school bus with its flashing lights engaged hit with stiffer penalties.
The Pictou County Tory introduced the Safely to School Act on Wednesday afternoon at the provincial legislature.
“Basically, it’s all about safety,” Dunn said in a telephone interview before entering the legislature for its afternoon sitting.
“I spent 30 years in the school system, 15 as an administrator, ... vice principal and principal in junior and senior high in Pictou County and ... during that span of time, heard a lot of stories and incidents and close calls and so on. And I am aware, of the years, of young ones getting hit and unfortunately being killed.”
It is against the law for drivers going in either direction to pass a school bus that is stopped and has its flashing lights engaged. The penalty for doing so is a fine of $410 and six demerit points on a licence.
Despite those deterrents, there are still people passing stopped school buses and other incidents, he said, including one just this week.
On Monday morning, a Jeep Cherokee drove into the back of a school bus that was stopped with its lights and stop sign activated on St. George Boulevard in Hammonds Plains, according to a Halifax District RCMP news release.
There were 21 children on the bus but no one was hurt. The driver of the Jeep was issued a summary offence ticket.
“Talking to the police, they keep telling me there’s a wide variety of excuses: ‘I’m late for an appointment,’ ‘I’ve got to get to work,’ ‘I’m going grocery shopping,’ or something but it just seems like people are willing to take the risk of passing a school bus knowing full-well, first of all, the consequences of hitting a child, and secondly, the other consequence is being fined by the police and going through the court proceedings of a fine and suspension and so on,” Dunn said.
“But if this bill can save an injury or the life of one child in the province, then it’s worth its weight in gold.”
The new bill would see that punishment increased to 10 demerit points, resulting in a six-month suspension, and the maximum fine increased to $5,000.
“It’s a pretty traumatic experience for bus drivers in the province when they see some close calls and they see drivers on a weekly basis passing their bus with all the warnings out, the flashing red lights, the red stop sign and so on,” Dunn said. “So it’s a tough job for them and it’s certainly something that they certainly wouldn’t want to be reporting back to the depot to say that we’ve had a very serious accident and we have a fatality.
“So hopefully, this will be a deterrent to hopefully all the drivers that, look, you just don’t risk a child’s life by driving through (school bus) red lights.”
Marla MacInnis, spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, said in an emailed statement that the province is “committed to providing the safest means of transportation for students travelling to and from school and would like to speak to other jurisdictions to understand their fines and penalties as we review this bill.”
Dunn said P.E.I. introduced a bill similar in the fall.
MacInnis said conversations on school bus safety are being held on a national level.
“The federal government has put together a task force that is looking at school bus safety,” she said. “We are pleased to have a representative from Nova Scotia’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal appointed to the task force. This conversation comes at a great time for Nova Scotia as our new Traffic Safety Act will have the ability to make changes in regulation instead of legislation. We look forward to seeing the results of the task force and further ensuring the safety of students travelling to and from school.”