Mark Fornataro: Canadian bus regulation is an accident waiting to happen

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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.

Poll

Should seat belts be mandatory on buses in Canada?

Yes 50%
40 votes
No 43%
34 votes
Maybe 8%
6 votes

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.

Comments (4) Add New Comment
James Blatchford
Completely agree...for too long the industry has been serving up lame and specious arguments against the single most effective injury reducing mechanism ever developed:the common seatbelt.
A travesty that Canada isn't a world leader in this area given our terrain, road conditions and the miles logged by Canadians in these types of vehicles. One day we will look back and ask what we're we thinking.
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arland
Considering the fact that these tour buses seem to have a higher centre of gravity, it is not surprising that a bus will topple if it sideswipes a guard rail designed to contain a lower structured vehicle. The windows of these buses, over-sized for the comfort of its passengers, in order to view the scenery, will fly open in a sudden roll-over, (they are designed as emergency exits) thereby subjecting the passengers to a centrifuge-like situation, and be ejected outside of the bus' safety perimeter. I would think that the application of seat belts would be a priority for these vehicles. If I were a passenger, I would feel much more secure with them applied. I'm surprised that the Transport Safety Board has not reviewed this situation.
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MarkFornataro
Hi arland- re: your comment "The windows of these buses ...will fly open in a sudden roll-over"- that seems to be the case with the accident in which John Betts' son died. Twelve people were ejected, seven died and 28 others injured, while most notably, Betts says the seats remained intact. Two ere trapped under the bus. In my father's case, he was sitting at the very front of the tour bus,probably the most dangerous place to be without a seatbelt, and was the only one on the bus to die.
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Earl Finnegan
Good to know all of this. I still thing I would hire a charter bus though.
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