Do you have road sense?

The school bus is the safest method of ground transportation in Canada.

According to the Association of School Transportation Services of British Columbia, it’s the safest by a substantial margin.

I’m sure we all expect and demand nothing less when our children and grandchildren are riding those buses to and from schools and school related events.

Surely all drivers should understand this and not hesitate to stop when the red lights on a stopped bus are flashing.

Unfortunately, this is not so.

Last January, CTV News rode in a Surrey school bus and recorded many drivers who did not even slow as they passed the bus while it was unloading students at the end of a school day.

They also interviewed one driver who became very emotional as he described a near miss when he was dropping off two little girls.

Calls were made for increasing the penalty for drivers who ignored the flashing red lights from $167 and three penalty points to something more significant.

The provincial government agreed and increased the fine to $368.

CTV claims that this is still much lower than some other provinces, the highest being Ontario with a penalty of $400 to $2,000 and six penalty points for a first offence.

There was also a mention of the possibility of placing camera systems on B.C. school buses to record violations.

Gatekeeper Systems of Abbotsford has supplied Prince Edward Island with its Student Protector Licence Plate Reader system for that province’s school bus fleet.

I was unable to find out anything about whether that system was still in operation or how effective it might be.

There has been no indication of the success of cameras being used on school buses in B.C., but police did issue 200 tickets for failing to stop using conventional methods in 2015.

Our provincial driving manual Learn to Drive Smart (page 92) teaches that you must stop when you approach a school bus displaying flashing red lights from the front or the rear, no matter what lane you're in.

Drivers are also advised that they must not start moving again until the bus driver signals it is safe by turning off the lights and pulling in the stop sign.

So, what about the driver I watched who met a school bus with its lights flashing and discharging students while it was stopped in a T intersection?

That driver was approaching from the side and facing a stop sign. She signalled, stopped, turned right and drove away even though unloading was still in progress.

Our Motor Vehicle Act, which supersedes the Learn to Drive Smart manual, requires drivers to stop when meeting a school bus with red lights flashing.

This would cover an approach from any direction, so drivers must pay more attention and think carefully as the red lights on the bus face forward and back, not to the side.

It makes sense as students may choose to walk around either end of the bus to cross the road.

We’re on the brink of another school year and soon school buses and students will be on the roads again.

See! Think! Do!  And stop when necessary. It’s not only the law, but good road sense.

To comment or learn more, please DriveSmartBC.ca.

Truck stop(ping) blues

Perhaps you saw news coverage of the commercial-truck collision on the Coquihalla Highway last Friday.

Witnesses speculated that the tractor-trailer unit lost its brakes, and may not have stopped at the mandatory brake inspection pullout nearby. No doubt this will be either confirmed or disproved when the investigation is complete.

There are mandatory brake checks before significant grades on many B.C. highways.

Drivers of specified vehicles must stop and check the braking system before they start down the hill.

If the air brakes are out of adjustment or any other defects are found, the driver must remedy the problem before proceeding. It's hoped this insures heavily loaded vehicles don’t lose their brakes and become involved in a collision.

You might be surprised to find out that heavy commercial trucks with air brakes are not the only vehicles required to stop and check brakes at these mandatory check locations.

Any truck with a licensed gross vehicle weight over 5,500 kilograms must stop and check, regardless of the type of braking system. This could include a pickup truck towing a large recreational trailer.

Properly licensed drivers of vehicle combinations like this often have either a higher qualification or endorsements and are familiar with how to proper check their braking systems.

ICBC highlights a proper inspection procedure in the Driving Commercial Vehicles manual. It includes a pre- and post-trip list and a pre-hill section.

The manual is worthwhile reading for any driver who would like to gain a better understanding of the heavy vehicles that we share the road with in addition to the brake information.

Many brake checks have signs posted that remind the driver of what they should be checking when they stop.

This is how we hope that the system works and we are protected by its operation when we share the road with heavy loads. When the driver is a conscientious one, all is well. In the real world, I’ve seen drivers pull in, stop, pause and continue without ever leaving the cab.

If they did alight, a good tire thumping to discover flats was all that occurred as they never stooped to look underneath. I even knew of trucking companies where a ticket for out-of-adjustment brakes on trailers was a virtual certainty if I found them during patrols.

Even the courts have not helped the situation. Unless case law has changed since I ended my policing career in 2005, the courts held that the simple act of being able to stop the vehicle at the check was sufficient to comply with the sign directing drivers there.

Unless the driver failed to stop at all, there were no grounds to issue a ticket for disobeying. Police would have to examine the vehicle and find a defect, then ticket for the particular defect in order to take any enforcement action.

Even with a perfectly functional, correctly adjusted braking system, over use of the brakes on a hill can result in a runaway truck. Experience, anticipation and proper control of vehicle speed through the use of the transmission on hills is critical.

Signs at the check showing distance and grades are priceless information for drivers who have not encountered the hills of British Columbia.

To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca.

Where are all the cops?

Why don’t I see traffic police at work?

That was a topic of conversation among my colleagues when we sat down for a coffee break during a shift.

Most often, one of us would have been travelling during a vacation and the remark would be something along the lines of “I drove all the way to X and back and didn’t see anyone stopping violators.”

Maybe there is something to the remark, “Where’s a cop when you need one?”

In rural British Columbia, the traffic enforcement units I served on were required to cover long stretches of highway. Fort St. John was responsible for the Alaska Highway (97) from mile 33 to mile 147, Highway 29 from Highway 97 to Hudson’s Hope and all of the rural roads to the Alberta border.

South Okanagan policed Highway 97 from the U.S. border to Peachland, Highway 3 from the west end of Manning Park to Rock Creek, Highway 5A from Princeton to the Okanagan Connector and Highway 3A from Keremeos to Kaleden.

Central Vancouver Island managed Highway 19 from Nanaimo to north of Bowser, Highway 19A from Parksville to Fanny Bay, all of Highway 4A and Highway 4 from the east to the west coast.

It was difficult, if not unworkable, to patrol from one boundary of the district to the other in a single shift.

The manpower complement in Fort St. John was a corporal and five constables.

South Okanagan was staffed with a sergeant, a corporal and 10 constables.

Central Vancouver Island manpower included a sergeant, two corporals and nine constables.

Most of the on-road work was done by the constables and administration by the sergeants and corporals.

That seems like a lot of resources until you consider that there were other demands that could include collision investigation, court, training courses, impaired driving investigations (before the IRP (Immediate Roadside Prohibition) program, this could easily consume half a shift) and the dread of us all: paperwork.

Days off, annual vacation, sick leave and the need to cover both day and afternoon shifts spread us more thinly than we would have liked.

I can’t say that we were hidden from the casual glance of the travelling public either. Unmarked cars were rare in the fleet. They were almost always plain, full-sized sedans with black, steel wheels and antennae sticking out of the roof.

If you couldn’t spot one, it’s likely because you weren’t paying too much attention.

Information from the province regarding traffic policing resources and goals can be difficult to find.

The B.C. Policing and Community Safety Plan devotes a few words to traffic and road safety while the report on Police Resources in British Columbia, 2014 does not indicate how police manpower is dedicated beyond how many officers are authorized for each location.

It’s not surprising that you don’t see flashing lights that identify traffic law enforcement in progress when you travel on B.C.’s highways.

The task is a huge one and the number of police officers dedicated specifically to the job results in many kilometres of highway to patrol for each one.

Focused enforcement targeting high collision locations and behaviours is necessary for efficiency and limits random patrols.

To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca.

Speed signs ignored

Sign, sign everywhere a sign - and, if it's a speed sign, it's probably ignored.

The article that I wrote two weeks ago concerning solving your own road safety problems prompted an inquiry from the East Kootenays.

The writer complained that a section of Highway 31A leaving New Denver was marked with a 50-zone-ends speed sign and the next kilometre or so of the road had many driveways, some intersections, a pedestrian crossing for a public trail and was regularly used by cyclists and pedestrians.

Some drivers, with motorcyclists singled out for special mention, regularly travel here at speeds as high as 120 km/h.

Would I please have a sign put up limiting the speed to 50 or 60 km/h here?

I wish it were as simple as posting a sign to have drivers behave safely. From my policing experience, I suspect that speed signs are probably the most commonly ignored traffic-control device on our highways.

A quick “drive” of this segment of highway using Google Street View does find warning signs for deer, cyclists, equestrians and narrow, winding road marked with a double or single solid yellow line.

The last 24-hour roadway summary available online from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) is for July 15, 2012. It shows 575 vehicles passing the counting station with a peak of 63 vehicles at 3 p.m. It is not exceptionally busy here.

Under the Motor Vehicle Act, rural highways are automatically limited to a speed of 80 km/h unless there is a sign posted to permit something different.

The use of a 50-zone-ends sign without the indication of a different speed is unusual. I wonder if it was intended to leave a small doubt in the driver’s mind as to what the speed limit might be and result in a more gradual increase in speed here?

The MOTI has a blog article titled How Speed Limits are Set in BC: The Ultimate Guide.

There are many considerations taken into account before a speed limit is chosen, including local land use, highway geometry, traffic volume and speeds, collision and use history, as well as how the current highway is constructed.

At the end of 2013, B.C. began a province wide Highway Safety and Speed Review. Speed limits were adjusted following internal review and input from the public.

It does not appear that Highway 31A was included in either the initial review or the post implementation update. New Denver is not mentioned in the Consultation and Engagement Summary Report.

Perhaps this person does have a valid concern that has not been addressed. However, a simple letter to the MOTI or appropriate MLA requesting a speed sign is likely going to be ineffective.

A well researched document showing a before and after comparison for a reasonable period of time that addresses the MOTI’s speed zone setting criteria would be difficult to brush off.

The information is available to the public but is not a simple matter to obtain.

Rather than shoulder the responsibility (and the work involved) alone, you could consider forming a community action group, even if it only includes your neighbours.

You all have a stake in what happens where you live and a collection of voices is more difficult to ignore.

To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca.

More Behind the Wheel articles

About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories