Feature Story                                                                                                    Thursday April 12, 2012


School Bus Blues

Chilliwack RCMP look for errant drivers that put kids at risk

Craig Hill/Voice photos


A SD 33 bus leaves the Yale Road yard while still dark late last month.


ust before dawn on a chilly morning in late March, as School District 33 bus drivers warmed up their engines, Chilliwack RCMP Cst. Greg Dykstra was busy preparing for a shift riding on them, which is where the Voice caught up with him.

The big familiar orange buses amble along the road, occasionally stopping to disgorge kids. A “stop” sign flips out from the side, lights flash and drivers are supposed to stop. But some don't.

In BC it’s illegal to overtake or pass by a school bus that is stationary with its emergency red lights flashing or stop arm extended. 

A simple concept, yet some motorists forget what’s written in their driver training manuals, creating a dangerous and sometimes deadly situation for kids.

RCMP Cst. Greg Dykstra wants drivers to obey the rules.

Bus drivers make reports to district supervisors, who in turn contact the RCMP and over the last year, the number of incidents around school buses in Chilliwack has increased.                            

In response to the higher numbers, police launched a novel traffic initiative last month aimed at educating drivers who don’t do what they’re supposed to around buses. This means that officers will be keeping a watchful eye while periodically riding the buses..

“We're going on the buses to generate some awareness with drivers on the road and let them know we're out there and that we're not always in marked or unmarked vehicles,” said Dykstra. 

Motorists who don't pay attention can end up with a $167 ticket under Section 149 of the Motor Vehicle Act.

You’d think that having a cop on a school bus would mean you could hear a pin drop, but according to Dykstra, the kids get a kick out of him riding with them and have an opportunity to ask questions.

“They really enjoy that,” he said. “It gives them a chance to meet one of the officers, chat with us and sometimes they don't even know we're on the bus, they don't notice until they're getting off.”

Dykstra didn’t think he’d catch many drivers, as most know what to do when they encounter a school bus, but says there's always a few who break the law.

“I think there's going to be the odd motorist that is doing something wrong.”

Vehicles following a school bus must stop and wait until the flashing lights are turned off and the stop arm is retracted. If there’s a median or another type of barrier separating lanes, oncoming vehicles aren’t required to stop.

Parents are advised to follow these tips from the school board to improve their children’s safety while on the buses:

  • Children should wear bright colored clothing, especially if they wait for the bus before sunrise or if they get home after dark.  It’s also a good idea to place reflective tape or material on their outer garments and backpacks to increase their visibility.

  • Remind your children to stay seated while on the bus.

  • Teach your children to move away from the bus when exiting so the bus driver can see that your child has safely cleared the bus and is away from traffic.  Remind your children to stay away from the bus’ wheels at all times.

  • Teach your children to be aware of their surroundings and any vehicular traffic near them.  Let your children know that they shouldn’t assume that vehicles will stop for them or that drivers even see them.  If your child is required to cross the street, remind them to look both ways and traffic is stopped before crossing and to be aware of anything in their path that may cause them to stumble.

  • Instruct your children to never venture back out into the roadway if they drop something while crossing the road.  Suggest that they get help from an adult nearby.

Some drivers may not agree with the fact that uniformed police officers are working incognito using school buses as a disguise, but if they adhere to the rules and do what they’re supposed to when following or approaching a school bus, they have nothing to worry about. It’s that simple.

We'll have more on this later when the statistics are released.

© Copyright (c) 2012 The Valley Voice