As someone whose father was killed almost 40 years ago in a bus accident in Spain, I was more than a little put off by Canadian Safety Council spokesperson Catherine Benesch’s comments to CBC’s Early Edition host Stephen Quinn on January 3.
When asked why seat belts aren’t mandatory on buses in Canada she replied “buses aren’t necessarily designed for seat belts.”
Neither were cars until they were finally installed.
Benesch admitted seat belts in passenger vehicles save “about one thousand Canadian lives a year”.
She added that in the wake of the recent horrific northern Oregon bus accident that claimed nine lives and severely injured many others, “It would have been good if we could say ‘Yes, seat belts save lives,’ but there are other things to consider: driver distraction; the road conditions, what speed, we don’t know.”
By this nonsensical, red-herring logic, we should also scrap car and airplane seat belts. What I would like the Canadian Safety Council to say is "Accidents will happen and therefore it is prudent that preventive measures be taken."
According to Quinn, Transport Canada says it's “reviewing (bus safety) draft legislation in the U.S. to determine whether it would benefit Canadians.”
The word ‘draft’ is somewhat misleading. The U.S. legislation, the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act, has already been passed as part of the Surface Transportation Bill. As of July 2015, buses in the U.S. will require roof strengthening, safety glass, and seat belts.
As for Benesch’s “buses aren’t necessarily designed for seat belts”, consider this: John Betts—a bus-safety advocate from Ohio who lost his son in a bus accident—told me that all buses built in the last eight to 10 years can be retrofitted for seat belts. And he added that Europe, New Zealand, and Australia have all required bus seat belts for the past 12 years.
Sheldon Eggen of B.C.’s Charter Bus Lines, recognizing the importance of bus seat belts, says his company has voluntarily installed three-point restraints.
Betts says that the American Bus Association fought safety regulations for financial reasons, and no doubt bus companies in Canada are doing likewise. However Betts adds that the cost of adding common-sense safety features is a very small fraction of the cost of a bus and that consumers don’t mind paying a little more to be safe.
It looks like the Harper government needs to be poked and prodded into action on this issue. Hopefully the Conservatives will act before someone close to them dies in a bus accident.
Mark Fornataro is a writer living in Victoria.