An amber-red warning system for school buses, the focus of a private member’s bill introduced by local MPP Mike Harris, was signed into law last week.
Known as the Safer School Bus Act 2021, the law calls for older school buses to be retrofitted with a new flashing light system to boost safety. Harris argues a dual (amber-red) system is better, warns drivers that a school bus is slowing to a stop, helping them avoid illegally passing the bus, and making kids safer as they cross.
When buses are getting ready to stop for kids boarding or departing, the lights would turn amber – just like a traffic light – to signal drivers that they should begin slowing down. Once the bus stops, the lights then turn red as a clear indication to drivers that they should stop moving.
The bill began as a conversation about a year and a half ago following a petition brought by fellow MPP Vic Fedeli, the minister of economic development, job creation and trade.
“As a minister, you can’t introduce petitions and you can’t introduce bills. So, he and I have known each other for a very, very long time, growing up in in North Bay, and that’s where he’s from as well. He had asked if I would read these petitions into the legislature, and it was around school bus safety,” Harris explained of his getting involved with the issue.
The idea came following the formation of the advocacy group ‘Let’s Remember Adam,’ named after Adam Ranger, a five-year-old who was struck and killed getting off a bus in Mattawa.
Harris said the province was trailing the rest of North America in implementing the warning system.
“Ontario being the only province or state in North America that had not adopted this dual amber red lamp system. … We’ve done so much work on this and so much research and just hasn’t been able to find why it’s never been done.
The bill having received royal assent on May 12, thus becoming law, all school buses manufactured after 2005 will be required to have the amber-red system by the 2022-2023 school year. Adapting to the changes is estimated to range between $80-100 for buses depending on what type of system currently exists. Harris estimated the cost of retrofitting all existing buses at about $2 million.
Benoit Bourgault, general manager of student transportation services Waterloo Region, greeted the bill’s passing.
“We are pleased to see the Ontario government finally moving forward and making the legislative changes necessary to adopt the eight-lamp system with amber/red colour combo. This change will improve student safety and eliminate a significant cause of confusion for motorists,” he said.
A study by Transport Canada shows that across all road conditions – high traffic, multiple lanes, weather, and the like – there was a consistent 11 per cent reduction in speed with dual lamps compared to the all-red system. When there were two lanes of oncoming traffic, the amber-red system reduced the speed of oncoming vehicles by 64 per cent.
Drivers can be charged if they pass a stopped school bus with its upper red lights flashing and/or stop arm activated. Fines for the first offence range from $400 to $2,000, with six demerit points. Each following offence sees fines rise to $1,000-$4,000, six demerit points and possible jail time (up to six months).