Canada tackles bus safety

A new Canadian parliamentary committee report recommends various measures to improve passenger safety on motorcoaches and school buses but stops short of calling for retrofitting existing vehicles with seatbelts.

The Bus Passenger Safety report, prepared for the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, stems from recent fatal crashes involving buses in Canada, including an April 2018 collision in Saskatchewan between a semi-trailer and a motorcoach carrying the Humboldt Broncos hockey team. Sixteen people on the coach were killed and 13 were seriously injured.

“The issue of bus passenger safety has been at the forefront of many Canadians’ minds for the past year,” the report states in its introduction. Those public concerns were the catalyst for the committee’s November 2018 vote to launch a series of hearings leading to the report.

The report notes that in June 2018, Canada issued a mandate requiring new motorcoaches to be equipped with three-point seatbelts beginning Sept. 1, 2020. In Committee hearings about bus passenger safety, the issue of retrofitting existing motorcoaches with seatbelts was discussed.

Doug Switzer, president and CEO of Motor Coach Canada, an industry trade group, told the Committee that retrofitting is complicated and potentially dangerous if done incorrectly. He said the seats might need significant modifications to ensure that they can properly support the three-point seatbelts in the event of a collision. Some witnesses estimated that the cost to retrofit a motorcoach would vary from $40,000 to over $80,000, depending on the need for structural upgrades.

The report does make recommendations the Canadian government could implement, including developing a national standard for entry-level commercial drivers, including bus drivers, and developing crashworthiness standards for motorcoaches and school buses and a standard for crashworthy event data recorders. However, the report doesn’t recommend requiring existing motorcoaches and school buses be retrofitted with seatbelts.

“Throughout this study, the Committee heard from witnesses about the complexity of evaluating potential improvements to bus passenger safety,” the report states. “It was made clear to members that there is no ‘silver bullet’ that will definitively increase safety in all situations. Although seatbelts would undoubtedly prevent some serious injuries or fatalities, they are not the only solution to ensuring the safety of bus passengers in Canada. Nor is their installation benign or necessarily an improvement upon other safety features already in place, particularly in school buses. Improperly installing or fitting a seatbelt on a bus may in fact cause more injuries and deaths than it may avoid.”


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