Penticton police focus on school bus safety

RCMP members ride in school buses to catch drivers who violate traffic laws around school buses

Students exit the school bus at Uplands Elementary School on Middle Bench Road. When the vehicle’s red lights are flashing and the signs extended

Students exit the school bus at Uplands Elementary School on Middle Bench Road. When the vehicle’s red lights are flashing and the signs extended

Hitting high-risk offenders in the pocketbook is the Penticton RCMP’s continuing strategy in cracking down on drivers operating vehicles in a dangerous manner around school buses.

Only in the current program, no matter how vigilant offenders are in watching for authorities, the odds of getting caught are very high.

That’s because on designated routes throughout the district, officers are riding on school buses watching for drivers who disobey the flashing yellow and red lights, driving erratically or even using an electronic device such as a cellphone.

In this case, immediately behind the bus is an undercover police vehicle with a marked car also in the vicinity.

On this particular day, Const. Brad Caruso is aboard the bus on its route along Naramata Road, Cpl. Ted Manchulenko of the traffic unit is in the following vehicle and Const. Bruce McDowall is the rover.

For the most part this time around motorists are obeying the traffic laws, with the exception of the three or four people with heads tilted to one side, obviously talking on the phone.

Over the radio Caruso calls out the vehicle description and plate number of the offenders and they are quickly pulled over and issued a $167 ticket.

Although this is only the second day of the program, already one driver has been charged with passing a school bus when the red lights and stop signs were in use.

“It is just too bad that people don’t seem to be getting the message,” said Manchulenko. “The reason we’re doing this in the first place — working in conjunction with Berry and Smith Trucking (bus operators) and the school district — is because of the concerns that have been raised about some unsafe practices by drivers in and around the areas that children are either entering or exiting the school buses.

“By putting a member in the bus and having our officers shadow them, it enables us to send a little better message to the general public and those who are actually observed either passing a school bus or some other infraction. We are hoping to avoid a catastrophe.”

One popular misconception, according to the traffic officer, is that it is legal to use an electronic device while stopped in front or behind the bus.

“That’s not necessarily the case when you’re near a school bus, especially when there are children around,” said Manchulenko. “You’re supposed to be paying attention to what you’re doing and keeping your eyes on the road, not texting or talking on the phone.”

The other advantage to having an officer on the bus is that helps the professional drivers, who are mandated to report any incidents to the police, but aren’t always able to get vehicle licence plate numbers because of the many things happening around them at once.

Stepping up enforcement at this time was also due in part to several incidents in the area of Parkway Elementary School, including one case where a student crossing guard was run over and two wooden characters positioned at the crosswalk were hit by vehicles in separate incidents.

According to Manchulenko, the current program is very effective use of police time and resources.

“Any time we can get out into the public and educate them, whether it is good or bad, it’s worth it because we don’t even want to have even one accident involving a child,” he said. “It is devastating for people who actually hit someone. I’ve been to a number of motor vehicle accidents, and in many of them where a fatality has taken place, it’s not just the one life that’s impacted, it’s everybody’s, it’s devastating for many, many people.”

He added the onset of inclement weather and winter driving conditions makes it much more difficult to stop than when the roads are bare and dry.

His advice: “Pay attention to that 4,000 pounds you’re trying to maintain on the roadway.”