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Mr. Speaker, I rise in the house today to talk about an important matter for all Ontarians: the safety of our children.
Earlier today, I joined the Ontario School Bus Association at Princess Margaret Public School in Etobicoke to mark School Bus Safety Week, which runs until October 20th.
Mr. Speaker, about 800,000 children ride a school bus every weekday in Ontario, and they are now safer than ever before.
According to the latest Ontario Road Safety Annual Report — ORSAR — for the second year in a row, Ontario has the safest roads in North America.
Fewer children aged nine or under were killed or injured on Ontario roads in 2004. (Nine fatalities of children aged nine or under in 2004 compared to 12 in 2003.)
The report also shows a 13.3 per cent drop in the number of pedestrian fatalities compared to the year before. (104 in 2004 from 120 in 2003.)
These stats are important because about 70 per cent of school-vehicle related deaths happen while students are crossing the street or getting on and off the bus.
Mr. Speaker, the McGuinty government has made the safety of children a priority with legislation in 2004 to improve school bus safety, and in 2005 to crack down on speeders and those who ignore the rules at crosswalks and school crossings.
We required new safety features on buses including an arm at the front of new buses to prevent children from walking out in front of the vehicle where the driver can't see them.
The owner of any vehicle that illegally passes a school bus now faces charges regardless of who is driving at the time.
We require decals on the back of every school bus reminding other drivers of the $2,000 fine for illegally passing a stopped school bus.
We have increased the fines for speeding 30 to 34 kilometres over the speed limit and added three demerit points for those who endanger pedestrians at crossings.
And, Mr. Speaker I have asked the Ministry of Transportation to review if there is a need for seatbelts on school buses. There is a wide variance of opinion on the topic and MTO is gathering as much information as it can to see if the current policy needs to be changed.
School buses travel nearly two million kilometres every school day in Ontario. School bus safety week is an important public education tool to remind drivers of the importance of safety around schools and school buses.
Mr. Speaker, our government works closely with safety partners such as school boards across the province, the Ontario School Bus Association and the Ontario Safety League and others to make sure everyone in Ontario knows how important it is to drive with caution near school buses and school zones.
We also work with school boards across the province to educate children about safety — whether it's looking both ways before crossing the street or getting on and off a school bus safely.
We're doing what we can to keep kids safe on school buses and whenever they travel on Ontario roads.
Mr. Speaker, I know all members will want to join me in supporting School Bus Safety Week.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.