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EDITORIAL: Strobe lights are not enough

Sherbrooke school bus driver Jordan Stewart, right, shows Education Minister Brad Trivers the new features on one of P.E.I.’s 42 brand new school buses. The gasoline-powered buses produce fewer carbon emissions and have a rooftop strobe light that makes the bus much more visible in rain, fog and snow.
Sherbrooke school bus driver Jordan Stewart, right, shows Education Minister Brad Trivers the new features on one of P.E.I.’s 42 brand new school buses. The gasoline-powered buses produce fewer carbon emissions and have a rooftop strobe light that makes the bus much more visible in rain, fog and snow. - Contributed

Strobe lights are great if you're hosting a retro dance party.

But as a safety feature on our new $4.4-million fleet of 42 school buses? The buses also have two stop arms. Even so, the province should have done more.

Last November, the Public Schools Branch appeared before the province’s standing committee on infrastructure and energy to find solutions to deal with the issue of illegally passing school buses. Bringing back front licence plates was one idea that would have helped enforcement, but that hasn’t been implemented. One change that did happen was that drivers would lose their licence for three months if caught illegally passing a school bus. This would be in addition to hefty fines of between $1,000 and $5,000.

And yet, throughout the school year, reports of drivers passing stopped school buses remained a frequent occurrence in cities, towns and on rural roads. Sure, many drivers were caught and charged.

But the increased penalties didn’t change the behaviour of these offenders.

Putting cameras on school buses has also been tossed around.

It was tried several years ago on the Island, but the technology wasn’t as good as it is today. Unless obscured by dirt or snow, camera technology today should be able to grab an image of the licence plate and the offending vehicle.

Equally important is video of a dangerous driver passing a school bus can be used as a teaching moment for new drivers.

It’s one thing to tell someone about the dangers of passing school buses and describe a close call. It’s much more impactful to show them a video of actual incidents.

One such incident caught on camera by a mother using a cell phone made national news in the U.S. last week.

The mother in Houston was waiting for her child to come off the bus after the first day of school when a car blew past the stopped school bus. The mother shouted just before the child stepped out to cross the road.

The news broadcast then showed several other shocking close calls, and in one case, a video of a student actually being hit by a car driving through the stop signal.

Now that P.E.I. students are back in school, nothing was done over the summer vacation to address the issue or deter bad driving behaviour — unless you consider strobe lights a deterrence.

Strobe lights should get a driver’s attention. But they may also distract drivers as they pass a school bus.

We’ll see if strobe lights will have any effect this year, but we should keep our expectations low.

It’s true that adding cameras on school buses comes at a cost. But this was an opportunity for the province to start phasing in the technology with these 42 school buses, especially since $4.4. million of taxpayers’ money was already being spent.

Since we’re talking about our children’s safety and improving enforcement, it would have been money well spent.

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