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Aug 3, 2022

6 min. read

Every day, more than 830,000 kids in Ontario take a bus to school.

Research shows that it's an extremely safe way to travel—until it’s time for them to get off.

Estimates from provincial data show that 30,000 drivers speed past school buses daily, even when they have their lights flashing—an illegal act with potentially tragic consequences.

“Beyond the penalties, a driver could fatally injure someone,” says Tracy Marshall, manager of community relations with CAA Club Group. “I don’t think anyone wants that.”

But Ontario recently mandated a new amber-red light warning system that Marshall hopes will make the trip to school safer for students.

Updates to bus lights

Now all school buses built after January 1, 2005 must have both amber and red upper flashing lights at the front and back.

Under the new system, upper flashing amber lights will turn on as the bus slows down, indicating that drivers need to be cautious and slow down too.

Once the school bus stops, the upper red lights and/or the bus stop arm will be activated—indicating that drivers must come to a complete stop.

Previously, buses were only required to have red lights. The red light system was used to warn other motorists that the bus was about to stop and when the bus was actually stopped. This caused confusion, illegal passes and panic stops.

Important improvements

The change is small but “super important,” says Benoit Bourgault, general manager of Student Transportation Services of Waterloo Region.

His bus consortia transports 30,000 children a day. He believes the amber lights will give drivers much-needed clarity around when to stop and when to go. “The new system is common sense,” Bourgault says. “You’re going to see the amber flashing light first, like a traffic light.”

Pay attention

Road safety experts urge drivers to be patient and extra vigilant around school buses. Be alert and prepare to stop when its overhead flashing amber lights are on.

According to provincial law:

  • When driving on a road without a median, drivers travelling in both directions must come to a halt for a stopped school bus with its upper red lights flashing.

  • When motorists approach a bus from the front, drivers should stop at a safe distance to let children get on or off the bus and safely cross the road.

  • Never proceed until the red lights have stopped flashing and/or the stop arm is closed and the bus begins to move.

Motorists who break those rules face a fine of up to $2,000 and six demerit points for a first offence. A second time within five years will net drivers a fine up to $4,000 and six months in jail.

Bad driving behaviour

The addition of amber lights to school buses is part of the Safer School Buses.

It comes as traffic and school zone congestion approaches pre-pandemic levels.

A CAA survey revealed that 82 percent of parents found that school zones were congested.

They’ve also noticed a surge in bad driving. One in three parents say they’ve witnessed speeding, stopping in an undesignated area and double-parking in drop-off and pick up areas—numbers that have increased since 2021.

Marshall says it’s important for drivers in school zones to drive slowly, be aware of their surroundings, to stop only in dedicated spots and allow pedestrians to fully cross the road before advancing.

We all need to do our part to maintain the safety of our roads for kids as they return to class, which starts with following the proper laws around buses.

Stay safe

Since 1929, CAA has helped keep students safe with its CAA School Safety Patrol® program, a partnership with police, teachers, bus consortia and student volunteers. Every year, over 900 schools and 20,000 students participate in the program. To learn more about the CAA School Safety Patrol, visit caaschoolsafetypatrol.com. For more school zone safety tips, click here.

Image credit: aceshot/iStock

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