The provincial government refuses to press the case for seatbelts in commercial or school buses even though Transport Canada says the province has the right to do just that.
Following the December roll over crash of a Wilson’s Transportation bus carrying Myra Falls mine employees, there has been renewed interest in the merits of mandatory seatbelts in commercial and school buses.
There were 14 riders on the mine bus, including the driver, and 12 were taken to hospital. Two passengers, Pat Jeffery and Dennis Fawcett, had serious rib, lung and back injuries.
A request by the Mirror to discuss the implications of this accident with Transportation Minister Blair Lekstom was declined by his staff. However, Lekstrom’s public affairs officer Kate Trotter stated in an e-mail, “Transport Canada is responsible for bus safety and standards when it comes to design and manufacture, including seatbelt requirements.
“B.C. is not considering adopting separate regulations for seatbelts for commercial/school buses as this area is under federal government purview.”
Transport Canada spokesperson Maryse Durette says, “Provinces and Territories have the ability to mandate the use of seat belts on any existing vehicle. This includes vehicles that federally do not require seat belts to be installed in the passenger positions.”
In 2009, WorkSafeBC relaxed regulations governing seatbelts in commercial buses on highways. Spokesperson Megan Johnston also says, “Our reg applies only to industries that WorkPlaceBC regulates – one of the exceptions is mining.”
The Myra Falls crash was not an isolated incident. Last Sunday, a passenger was hurt when a transit bus rolled near Duncan after it collided with a station wagon. In June 2011, several students aboard a Penticton area school bus were injured when it was involved in a fatal crash with a small car that crossed into its path. The bus was equipped with belts, but the students were not wearing them.
NDP MLA Mike Farnworth, when he was the Opposition’s public safety critic, said the provincial government, “should require passengers riding school buses in the province to belt up.”
“It’s time for the government to examine the issue of school bus safety and move to require seatbelts for school bus passengers. Authorities are debating the matter of seatbelts in school buses, and we should also move on this matter in British Columbia. Operators and manufacturers of school buses must work harder to make their vehicles safer for the children who ride them.”
Under the regulations of the B.C. Motor Vehicle Act seatbelt usage is mandatory if a vehicle is so equipped. But, Transport Canada does not require seatbelts to be worn on buses even though it admits that seatbelts would help prevent injuries in roll overs.
A Transport Canada review of school bus safety issues states, “In many instances seatbelts would not have prevented the serious injuries that occurred in school buses. These involve direct intrusion into the bus of an object such as another vehicle or, for example, a steel plate from a passing truck. There are, however, individual instances where seatbelts could have prevented injury. They involve roll over, ejection and impact with other passengers or the bus interior.”
Tragedy prompts U.S. seatbelt action
Unlike Canada, the U.S. is at least trying to implement a requirement that new buses be equipped with lap-shoulder belts.
The debate over bus passenger safety south of the border has been reignited following a series of fatal accidents that focused attention on whether seatbelts should be required in commercial buses.
Federal safety experts first proposed that seatbelts be mandatory on all interstate buses 43 years ago. In all that time Congress had not acted despite the statistics show ing that most fatalities result from passengers being ejected in roll overs.
However, Congress finally vowed to tackle the issue after a horrific accident last March in New York in which 15 passengers were killed and 18 injured.
on a trip home from a casino. The driver was indicted for manslaughter and the bus line shut down, however the owner continued offering service through his other companies. Since then, there have been five other crashes nationally involving curbside carriers leaving 22 dead and 159 injured.
A bipartisan Senate bill, co-sponsored by a Texas Republican and an Ohio Democrat, would require all passengers to wear seatbelts and mandate stronger roofs, reinforced window glass and regulations on fly-by-night companies and drivers. At year’s end the bill was caught up in infighting over a larger transportation bill.
Over the past 10 years, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has investigated 33 bus accidents involving the ejection of more than 250 passengers unrestrained by seatbelts. While motor coaches provide one of the safest forms of travel, the NTSB believes many of the fatalities that have occurred in bus accidents could have been prevented with fairly simple regulations, such as the use of seatbelts, stronger roofs and windows, better fire proofing and emergency exits.
Currently six states – Florida, Texas, California, Louisiana, New Jersey and New York – require seatbelts in school buses.