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WHEREAS roads or highways in Alberta are governed by the Traffic Safety Act (TSA); and
WHEREAS the Lieutenant Governor in Council may enact regulations related to the rules of the road pursuant to section 112 of the TSA; and
WHEREAS the TSA allows peace officers and police officers to fine drivers that contravene speed regulations in school zones or pass school buses stopped with red lights flashing to drop off or pickup students; and
WHEREAS there are no provincial regulations for drivers overtaking school buses that have stopped with alternating amber lights flashing; and
WHEREAS Alberta Transportation’s recommends that “if you pass a school bus that has its alternating amber lights flashing, pass with caution”; and
WHEREAS there are speed regulations for many of the other higher risk areas or activities on roadways, including passing emergency vehicles, passing plow trucks, and driving through construction, playground and school zones;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta urge the Government of Alberta to enact or amend legislation to address motorists passing school buses with amber lights flashing, and that the legislation include the following:
Motorists need to respect the flashing lights on a school bus, which creates a safety zone for children around the vehicle and are often the children’s only defense when they get on or off the bus. Motor vehicle drivers should watch out for alternating flashing amber lights, which means a school bus is slowing to stop where students will either be getting on or off the bus.
According to Transport Canada, school bus travel remains the safest mode of transportation to and from schools. It is 16 times safer than the family car. Maintaining this level of safety requires motorists to do their parts too.
Alberta Transportation is currently reviewing the 90 km/h speed limit for buses as part of a transportation plan in late 2022. Review changes will not be introduced until the 2022/2023 or 2023/2024 school year.
The Government of Alberta website on school buses advises the following:
When school bus lights are flashing:
On an undivided highway (not divided by a median), do the following:
When you approach a school bus from either direction (from the front or the rear), and it has the alternating amber lights flashing, you must be ready to stop. This is a warning that the alternating red lights are going to begin flashing and the school bus is stopping to allow students to get on or off.
If you pass a school bus that has its alternating amber lights flashing, pass with caution.
When the school bus stops to let students on or off, its alternating red lights will begin flashing. You will also see a stop sign extended from the left side of the school bus. You must come to a full stop about 20 meters (about 4 to 5 car lengths) away from the school bus. This distance allows drivers of other vehicles behind you to see the flashing lights and students crossing the highway.
You must remain stopped until the alternating flashing red lights are turned off and the stop sign on the driver’s side is no longer extended.
These rules apply whenever and wherever the school bus lights are activated. Some municipalities have additional rules for school bus operation within their jurisdiction .
Some municipalities have bylaws that do not require school buses to use their alternating flashing lights when stopping. In this case, drivers do not need to stop but should still be cautious and watch for pedestrians when the buses are loading or unloading students.
In 2020, the Student Transportation Task Force addressed issues facing student transportation services, with the goal to get students to school as safely and efficiently as possible. Student transportation was identified as an item needing further review during meetings with school authorities and charter schools. The task force used the feedback gathered to develop 21 recommendations found in the Student Transportation Task Force: Report to the Minister. Alberta Education began implementing the recommendations through a three-phase action plan in May 2021. Panel recommendations include:
Phase 1 (May 2021)
Two audit teams to review student transportation operations of up to 15 school divisions. A joint working group will be established between the government and task force members to further discuss student transportation issues.
Phase 2 (start by September 2021)
Phase two to focus on enhancing regional cooperation among school divisions. It will also examine a provincial purchasing program for buses, fuel, insurance, and parts.
Phase 3 (complete by September 2022)
Phase three focuses on the development of a student transportation-funding model for the 2022/23 or 2023/24 school year. The current legislated student transportation requirements, including eligibility criteria, will be reviewed as part of this work.
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Alberta Transportation and Economic Corridors
Section 71 of the Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation requires drivers to slow down when passing a bus with flashing amber lights, so they can pass in a cautious manner. While the speed to slow down to is not specified, students are not at risk during passing, as they are not loading or unloading from the bus. Alternating flashing school bus red lights must be used when students are loading and unloading, which require drivers to stop. Drivers are educated on the importance of driving cautiously and requirements for passing school buses with flashing amber lights and stopping for those with flashing red lights. You may find this information in the Driver’s Guide available online at: https://open.alberta.ca/publications/61 98713.
In May 2021, the Minister of Education released the Student Transportation Task Force report that outlined key challenges experienced by the student transportation industry, recommendations to address them, and a plan on how the government will take action to consider the recommendations. Vehicles passing at unsafe speeds while the alternating flashing amber lights are activated did not appear in the report. However, instances of flybys where vehicles pass despite alternating flashing red lights activated was included. Transportation and Economic Corridors is participating in Alberta Education’s working group that is discussing the Student Transportation Task Force report recommendations. The insights and suggestions included in your letter have been forwarded to department staff for consideration during future reviews of applicable legislation.
There are several factors to consider when updating highway signage for school bus stops. For example, school bus stop location changes frequently occur and the department will need to determine how best to approach potential signage changes without distracting drivers. We appreciate your organization’s recommendations and commitment to school bus safety and will continue to explore options on this topic.
The Government of Alberta response indicates that there have been issues raised as it relates to school buses and student safety. However, the specific issues raised in this resolution have not been addressed through the Task Force, nor the ministry itself. The response also indicated that any changes made will need to go through a significant review process in order to ensure safety standards are met.
Further, it is appreciated that this letter was forwarded to the appropriate staff for consideration, however this action is not enough as the resolution specifically calls for setting a maximum speed limit of 60km/hour or slower on all roadways when passing school buses, in both directions, with flashing amber lights or providing regulations for roadside signage for school bus stops on primary highways in Alberta. As a result, RMA assigns this resolution a status of Intent Not Met, and will continue to advocate on this issue.