Mattawa is the first community in Ontario to have cameras on school buses collecting evidence for police – and the free system is available to any municipality that wants to jump on the BusPatrol bandwagon.
“There is no cost to anyone,” said Pierre Ranger, chairman of the Let’s Remember Adam Campaign that has advocated for safer student transportation for most of the past two decades. “Where the camera companies make their money is they take a percentage off the fines.”
Adam Ranger, Pierre’s brother, was five years old when he was killed in February 2000 while crossing Highway 17 to return home from school. The driver didn’t stop despite the flashing red lights and stop sign extended on the bus.
The Ranger family celebrated what would have been his 26th birthday Tuesday by announcing the Town of Mattawa’s partnership with BusPatrol, which installed the ‘smart’ camera system on 19 Belanger Brownway buses in December.
“It just kind of brings it full circle,” he said, adding said residents of all communities can ask their elected officials to make it a priority and if any municipal leaders want help or advice they can contact him.
If all school buses have cameras, he said drivers will start being more careful and alert whenever they see one – just like they do when a police cruiser is on the road.
The next big goal, Ranger said, is to get Ontario to require all school buses to feature an amber and red warning light combination.
“Right now, on a school bus in Ontario, there's four reds at the front, four reds at the back,” Ranger explained. “As the bus comes to a stop, one set of red lights comes on. When the bus stops, the other set of red lights comes on.
“It's very confusing for the general public and drivers to understand what that bus is doing and when it's safe to pass the bus, when it's not safe,” he said, noting Ontario is the only province with all red lights used for school bus warning signals.
“The amber lights would replace a set of those red lights and as the bus is coming to a stop, the amber lights would come on letting drivers know that if they can pass the bus safely now, they can still do so. And then once the bus comes to a stop, the red lights come on and that means you cannot pass that bus anymore,” he said.
“It's just to try to make it safer for everybody to understand what that bus is doing. So we're working with the government to try to get some laws changed and be able to use these amber lights.”
The virtual announcement included video messages by Premier Doug Ford, Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli (Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade), Mattawa Mayor Dean Backer, BusPatrol CEO Jean Souliere and Ontario Provincial Police, as well as Ranger.
The frequency of drivers not noticing or ignoring the warning lights with stop arms extended is in the tens of thousands every day in Ontario. Collecting digital evidence in an efficient way that meets the standards police need to secure convictions
“When an incident does happen, the video and all the photos and all the evidence the cameras took at the time of the incident get uploaded to the cloud, which the OPP has access to,” he said. “So when the school bus company reports the incident, ‘Yeah, someone just ran my lights and my stop arm,’ everything gets tagged and flagged and the OPP could access that file and have all the evidence they need to lay the charges to the owner of that vehicle.”
Do they record the whole bus run?
“These cameras aren't running 24/7. They only get activated once the stop arm starts to come out,” Ranger said. “And then it films from that period before and a little bit after as the bus starts to move again.”
There’s not much for a municipality to do if they want the same system.
“It's actually financed so the people that break the law pay for these camera systems. There's no upfront charge to anyone for this particular BusPatrol system,” he said. “BusPatrol comes in, puts all the cameras on the buses, smart everything, wires it all up, running the system. Plus, it trains the local technicians at the bus companies that will look after the systems and they have their own techs that will travel around, especially after COVID restrictions start to loosen up, if needed they'll travel around to repair any camera system that's acting up,” Ranger said.
Peel Region is looking at putting the same camera systems on all their buses, and they're looking at opening a ticketing centre for this system, he said.
“We're just ecstatic today to be able to finally have these on all our buses in Mattawa and we were hoping that the trend continues and that it is just the first stop and the other municipalities sign on,” he said.
“They've been tested before and they've proven to work. These camera systems will change driver behavior and make people pay more attention to school buses or realize they have to pay more attention to school buses because it's really going to affect their pocketbook at the end of the day.”
Eventually, Ranger said he hopes the sight of yellow school bus puts the same fear in the heart of drivers as an OPP cruiser.
“When you see a police car … drivers turn down their stereos and pay more attention to what's going on around them and around that car. So that's the way I want people to feel around school buses, that they have to pay 100 percent attention to what they're doing and what their bus is doing to make sure that no child's life is put in danger.”
Dave Dale is a Local Journalism Reporter with BayToday.ca. LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.