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(Posted 11:30 a.m., Dec. 13)
School bus running reaching epidemic proportions in Orléans

By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

A growing number of motorists are ignoring the flashing lights and extended stop signs on school buses in Orleans. The problem is causing a great deal of concern among school bus operators worried that it is only a matter of time before a student gets seriously hurt or worse. File photo

François Allard came dangerously close to living every school bus driver's worse nightmare last Friday. The ML Bradley driver had given the all clear for two students to cross the street in front of his bus when a car came out of nowhere ignoring his flashing lights and extended stop sign.

"I was looking in my mirror as the kids were crossing and I see this Dodge 4x4 coming. Instinctively I sound my horn and it's pretty loud. One of the kids was with a grandparent and she grabbed the kids and pulled them out of the way just as he swerved up and over a snow bank and down a side street, He was only a couple of metres from them when he swerved. It was just real real lucky no one got hurt," said.Allard.

The incident is just the latest case in what;s becoming an epidemic in Orléans. School bus operators are reporting more and more incidents of drivers ignoring their flashing lights and driving past their buses, endangering the lives of their young passengers.

"It's happening every day on almost every run," says ML Bradley owner Kathleen Both. "This is the worst it's every been. People are either in a rush or their on their phones and they drive right by. We've even had cars drive by on the right hand side and sooner or later a child is going to get seriously hurt or worse."

Ignoring a school bus's flashing lights carries a minimum $400 fine up to a maximum $2000 fine along with six demerit points. Unfortunately it's nearly impossible to catch an offending driver unless they are caught red-handed by a police officer who happens to be at the scene.

In order to successfully prosecute a school bus runner, they have to be positively identified. Because school bus drivers sit higher than most vehicles, positively identifying an offending driver is virtually impossible.

In the case of last week's near miss, Allard never saw the driver's face. He did drive down the side street and located the 4x4, but he still had kids on the bus and had to continue on his route.

"If I didn't have any kids on the bus, I would have parked it at the end of his driveway and waited for the police," said Allard.

Fellow ML Bradley operator Joanne McGuire says the number of school bus runners is the worst she's seen in her 28 years driving a bus.

"It's been really bad this year. They just go right by you," said McGuire whose daily route includes one of the worst stops in Orleans at the corner of Charlemagne and Valade where she's constantly being passed especially by oncoming traffic. "It's four lanes there and people don't realize they still have to stop. It's very frustrating and very scary."

Both says the problem is lack of awareness of basic traffic laws regarding school buses in addition to an increase in distracted driving.

"People need to be more aware of these laws and more focused when approaching a school bus," says Both who is also frustrated with the lack of support they are getting from law enforcement.

McGuire recalls when an unmarked car and a motorcycle cop monitored a stop on her route last year and charged three drivers. They were only their the one time and didn't come back.

"If charging three drivers at one stop on one day doesn't tell you there's a problem that needs to be addressed, I don't know what will," says McGuire.

Both would like to see the police undertake a blitz to address what is a growing problem, but over the long-term she would like to see the province launch a campaign aimed at driver awareness similar to the "At My Stop, You Stop".campaign which ML Bradley tried to promote during School Bus Safety Awareness Week, but with limited success.

The campaign tries to educate motorists and students alike. Amog the rules motorist must obey are never pass a school bus when its red lights are flashing even on a four lane road where there is no median; stop at least two car lengths behind the bus; remain stopped until the the overhead stop lights have stopped crossing; and when approaching a school bus in oncoming traffic, stop far enough away to allow students to cross the road well ahead of your front bumper.

(This story was made possible thanks to their generous support of our local business partners.)

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