On a school day in May, qathet Regional District resident Laural Zilke said her husband and son walked together to the school bus stop on Stark Road south of Powell River, where the bus picked up the Brooks Secondary School student.
According to Zilke, her husband asked their son, “You always look twice, right?”
“As he said, ‘Yeah, of course,’ the bus was stopped and lights were flashing and a car went speeding right by about a foot from him,” said Zilke, who also has a school-aged daughter.
The close call caused Zilke to go to social media, where she has been active on the Facebook page Powell River South, to draw attention to the dangers of vehicle and school bus conflicts in the Powell River area.
Zilke said when school classes resumed in the fall, dangerous incidents started to happen again.
These are not isolated incidents, according to Zilke. She said residents south of Powell River see it all the time.
According to School District 47 superintendent Jay Yule, there has been an increase in safety issues involving school buses.
“We haven't had a lot of reports in previous years but this year when we had the reports from south of town, we checked with our bus drivers and it's definitely more frequent than we'd like,” said Yule.
Zilke said she has been taking her camera to the bus stop and about two weeks ago managed to get a licence plate and reported it to the police.
“He was about 100 metres from the bus stop,” said Zilke. “The lights were already flashing yellow and he looked like he was slowing down, and as the lights went red he stepped on the accelerator.”
On November 20, Zilke took the matter to District Parents’ Advisory Council (DPAC), where she and her husband made several recommendations, including dashcams, crossing guards, bus stop volunteers with reflective vests, increased highway signage, solar-powered flashing lights during bus stop hours and awareness campaigns.
In an email, DPAC chair Jaclyn Miller said the presentation brought to light how pervasive the problem is, particularly along Highway 101.
Miller said DPAC supported Zilke pursuing the issue further with City of Powell River and qathet Regional District to discuss increased signage, an educational marketing campaign and also forwarding contact information to RCMP about drivers who are putting children in danger by failing to abide by laws related to school buses.
“We also had a discussion about bus drivers tracking the number of incidents of this nature in a day, week, et cetera, so we could get an accurate view of the most risky routes in the district,” said Miller. “We would hate to see any child hurt.”
Yule said letters have been sent out to all parents and that school principals remind all bus riders to not rely on the red lights and stop arm.
“They must always stop and look both ways. We have an ad campaign in local media,” said Yule. “We have added dashcams to our local buses and are working with the RCMP to increase enforcement.”