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CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Hit drivers who illegally pass school buses where it hurts them the most — suspend their licences.
That was one idea floated by Graham Miner, director of the Highway Safety Division, who appeared Thursday before the standing committee on infrastructure and energy.
It was the second hearing in as many weeks on the issue for the committee as the province looks for more effective ways to battle an ongoing issue.
Miner suggested the province wouldn’t have to table any new legislation if it tackled the issue under the demerit point system regulations which falls under the Highway Traffic Act.
Right now, drivers with spotless records start with zero points. If one was to reach six or less points, they would receive a warning letter from the Department of Transportation.
When drivers hit between nine and 11 points, another letter is sent asking them to come in for a meeting where their driving record is discussed.
Twelve demerit points result in a three-month suspended licence, a $100 reinstatement fee and another meeting. The driver is then required to take a driver improvement course or defensive driving course. The driver is also placed on demerit point probation for one year where if they pick up so much as a single demerit point, the process starts all over again.
Drivers who are charged with illegally passing school buses are currently assigned eight demerit points.
Miner suggested it be increased to 12 demerit points, thereby triggering the above-mentioned process and costing drivers their licence for three months.
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He made the suggestion after saying that even though P.E.I. has to heftiest fines in the country for illegally passing a school bus — minimum of $1,000 and maximum of $5,000 — they don’t seem to be a deterrent.
“Everything is on the table,’’ Miner said.
Transportation Minister Paula Biggar also appeared before the committee, reiterating what Miner was saying.
Biggar said additional signage has gone up, the province has ramped up educational awareness on social media and is willing to consider everything from putting strobe lights on buses to bringing back mandatory front and rear licence plates.
“No meeting, no appointment is more important than paying attention to your driving,’’ Biggar said. “Once a driver has illegally passed a school bus the child is already in danger.’’
Miner also showed slides containing the number of traffic collisions, injuries from collisions and fatalities from the 1980s to present day. He said things like legislation and public awareness campaigns have brought the numbers down, but society is facing a new enemy these days — cellphones and distracted driving. And it’s impacting school buses.
“I would agree that distracted driving is as bad as impaired driving and I would support treating it the same,’’ said MLA Hannah Bell.
Biggar said RCMP and highway safety officials have stepped up enforcement in areas that have been identified as hot spots, often using unmarked vehicles.
MLA Alan McIsaac suggested putting a crossing guard on each bus in those hot spot areas.
Allen Roach, chairman of the committee, said there will be one more meeting on the school bus issue before any recommendations go to government.