The new school year is still young, but Cindy Dettling cringes at the number of accidents involving school buses already adding up on roads across Canada.
Perhaps most unsettling is the story out of Grand Barachois, New Brunswick, last week, where a 22-year-old woman was killed after driving into the back of a stopped school bus that was picking up a student on Sept. 10.
In Innisfil, Ontario, three students were seriously injured in a crash between a bus and pickup truck just this week. Elsewhere, a bus rolled over into a ditch and hit a power pole while navigating a curve on a narrow road outside Halifax on Wednesday. In Winnipeg's St. Vital neighbourhood, a bus crashed into a fence on the first day of school last week.
"It's a tragedy, no matter how it plays out," said Dettling, a bus driver in School District 60 who has made it her mission to educate local drivers about road safety during the school year.
School buses are statistically the safest mode of transportation, Dettling says, but there are risky drivers who increase the odds of an accident every day on local roads.
So far this year, at least three drivers have driven past school buses that have been lawfully stopped on the road to pick up students. One of them involves a public vehicle and is being investigated, Dettling said, though she couldn't divulge more information.
"We've had three people run through our lights, but, you know what, that's three too many," Dettling said.
"When we're talking about statistics and buses being the safest mode of transportation, that's because our drivers are paying attention and avoiding a lot more than that.
"There's people pulling out in front of us, people slamming on their brakes in front of us and making a quick turn. There's all kinds of things we deal with on a daily basis. Those are the things that put kids at risk."
Under provincial law, drivers must remain stopped behind a bus until its stop sign and lights have stopped flashing before passing. In 2016, the province doubled fines from $167 to $368 for drivers who fail to stop, and Dettling was a key figure in lobbying efforts for the increase.
There are 47 bus routes in the school district, Dettling said, and some buses are equipped with cameras that snap pictures of offending drivers.
"We've actually been successful in ticketing people," Dettling said.
"You need the evidence. So, when people say, 'No, it wasn't me driving,' well … we have your face. It's not always just the licence plate we get because we have a front camera, a rear camera, and a side camera. So, smile."
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