As the school year gets underway, kids across the province are climbing onto buses with the familiar four red lamps. New this year, however, are four amber lamps.
Last year Mike Harris, Member of Provincial Parliament for Kitchener-Conestoga, had his private member’s bill passed to have these four amber lamps installed on every Ontario school bus built since 2005.
The buses were retrofitted this summer, and included about 80,000 lamps changed over on nearly 20,000 buses. The province provided $4 million for the project.
To mark the occasion, Harris was at the Elliott Coach Lines location in Elmira September 2, joined by regional Chair Karen Redman.
The red and amber light system is called the Eight Lamp Amber-Red Warning System, said Rob Murphy, president of School Bus Ontario.
“The system uses four amber lights to warn that the bus is about to stop. And then when the bus comes to a full stop, the amber lights turn off, and the red warning lights start to flash. A clear distinction between the advanced warning and the “you must stop” phase of the warning system,” he said.
“Next week, 18,000 school buses will hit the roads across the province of Ontario. This new aid light amber system will enhance the safety for all drivers and students when boarding and exiting a school bus across the province,” Murphy said last week.
This is a protocol that is already in place in every other jurisdiction in North America, said Harris. Ontario was likely the last one to enact it.
Harris said school buses are often overlooked when it comes to school safety.
The bus companies were ready for this change, said Murphy. Since 2005, every bus in Ontario was built with eight lamps, but they were waiting for the legislation to be in place to change four of them over to amber. Now, that has been done.
“The industry was, quite frankly, ready for this change; it just needed political will behind it,” Harris said. Why hadn’t it been done yet? “Quite honestly, I don’t know,” said Harris. “I’m glad we’re finally there and that I’m a part of it. Especially with five kids at home.”
Harris said the process to pass the private member’s bill took upwards of two years.
“Our bus drivers and operators do a fantastic job, let’s give them the tools they need to keep everyone safe,” said Harris.
“So at the end of this year we ended the school year with one warning system and we started the new school with a new warning system,” said Murphy. “Now it’s the turn of the general public to improve school bus safety. So this is for everyone else. We’ve done our job to make the message a little clearer, now it’s up to you.”