Oxford County council support added safety, increased penalties for motorists who pass school ... .

Highway Transportation

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School buses will be provided with an extra measure of safety to hopefully deter any driver thinking they can pass a school bus with its stop arm extended.

School buses will be provided with an extra measure of safety to hopefully deter any driver thinking they can pass a school bus with its stop arm extended. Postmedia File Photo DUNCAN KINNEY / DUNCAN KINNEY/SPECIAL TO SUN MED

Motorists in Oxford County who illegally pass school buses will soon be in for a rude awakening.

Thanks to updated Highway Traffic Act legislation that makes photos from stop-arm cameras admissible in court without an accompanying witness, these reckless drivers will be much likelier to face stiff fines and demerit points. The legislation also makes it easier for municipalities to set up school bus stop arm cameras in their region.

To support this new provincial effort, Oxford County council diverted $1,000 from its road operations budget to develop its own school bus camera program and fund its involvement in the new school bus camera municipal working group . This committee – sponsored by the Ontario Traffic Council – helps municipalities work together to create a consistent program across the province.

“Anything we can do to bring higher visibility to this, to bring greater levels of enforcement, is advantageous and is only going to help save a life and put off a disaster,” Coun. Marcus Ryan said.

Under the new provincial riles, municipalities are responsible for identifying the preferred cameras, obtaining that equipment, entering into an agreement with the provincial government and the vendor for that technology, and setting up a framework for issuing the tickets.

“To ensure consistency across the province with respect to technology and processing of offences, we strongly encourage all interested municipalities to work together to identify preferred camera systems and a common approach to offence processing,” said Jeff Yurek, the then-minister of transportation, in April 2019.

While there are fewer students taking school buses this academic year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have still been too many reported incidents in Oxford County, Ryan sadded. A county staff noted that 19 drivers had been convicted of not stopping for a school bus since Jan. 1, 2015.

The report suggested the cameras will “enhance school bus safety and promote driver compliance of school bus passing laws.”

Prior to the amended legislation, which came into effect on Sept. 1, bus drivers were typically the lone witnesses to any school bus-passing charges. The changes to the act relieve drivers of that pressure while helping secure convictions of disobedient drivers.

The revised legislation also makes it illegal for drivers to pass a school bus with an extended stop arm, even if its overhead red flashing lights are not activated. The legislation also bumped up the penalties, increasing the fine for a first-time violation from $400 to $2,000, as well as six demerit points. Repeat offenders can risk fines of up to $4,000 and six months in jail.

“You have to ask yourself what is wrong with people’s heads,” Oxford Warden Larry Martin said of people who illegally pass a school bus. “That’s the bottom line.”

More than 500,000 students are being bused to school this year, according to the province.

The recent changes to the legislation was prompted, in part, by efforts from Chatham-Kent––Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls, who previously introduced a defeated private member’s bill that aimed to get the stop-arm cameras on buses and allow video evidence to be used in court. In 2019, the Ontario government announced the new measures to target drivers who passed stopped school buses, promising stiffer penalties and the on-arm cameras.

Six municipalities – Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo, Sudbury, Brantford, North Bay and Peel Region – then participated in a pilot project to equip school buses with stop-arm cameras. To outfit a bus with the technology costs between $1,000 and $2,000, say bus operators, who have long called for video evidence to be used to prosecute drivers who blow by stopped buses.

Former Chatham-Kent MPP Pat Hoy had also introduced a school-bus safety bill allowing police to charge the driver and the owner of the vehicle, following the 1997 death of high school student Ryan Marcuzzi, 17, who was struck by an oncoming car as she attempted to board her school bus on Highway 3.