TIMMINS -- Almost two months into the school year, the Timmins Police Service is reporting increased calls of cars zooming past stopped school buses, contrary to the law.

A bus stopped with its lights flashing and stop sign arm extended means children are boarding or exiting the bus — but police communications coordinator Marc Depatie said some drivers are ignoring those signals.

"These motorists are effectively placing their own personal schedule ahead of the safety of a child," Depatie said.

School bus driver Pat Nault has been driving students and training her fellow bus drivers in safety for over 20 years.

Nault said while it shouldn't be a surprise that people should take caution on the road, especially when children are involved, she still experiences issues.

"We're out on the road, making sure kids are safe and picking up the kids, but it seems like everybody's in a rush all the time," Nault said. "They're not paying attention to the big yellow buses or the flashing lights."

The rule for drivers is to stay at least 60 metres away from a stopped, signalling school bus.

Failing to stop for a school bus that's picking up or dropping off children comes with increasingly hefty charges:

  • First offence — $400 to $2,000 fine and six demerit points
  • Subsequent offences — $1,000 to $4,000 and six demerit points, plus up to six months of possible jail time
  • Vehicle owner can still be fined if he or she wasn't driving

Also important, Nault adds, is for families to make sure their children know how to be safe when boarding and leaving a school bus. Looking both ways before crossing a street is a common saying for a reason, she said.

The community "Bus Buddies" partnership between police, school boards and school bus companies would normally teach children the essentials in August, but Depatie said that was cancelled while the province determined how and whether schools would reopen. The hope is to resume that programming in the future.

Meanwhile, Depatie and Nault said while everybody has a part to play to ensure people's safety, the primary responsibility is on drivers.

"Early in the morning and late in the afternoon, they should just be paying more attention to us when we're out and about, picking up their children, their grandkids," said Nault.

"They'll be safer drivers, better citizens and they'll be responsible for contributing to the safety of a child," said Depatie.