Students may have to buckle up on buses

Richard Froese and Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Students riding on school buses may have to buckle up in seatbelts in a year or so. The federal Transport Minister, Marc Garneau, recently announced that he will create a task force to study the matter. News reports state that seatbelts could be installed on newly built school buses starting in 2020.

Harry Davis, the director of transportation for the High Prairie School Division, supports the concept.

“If Transport Canada says seatbelts are the safest way, (HPSD) would comply,” he says.

However, there are logistical concerns and cost is only one of them.

“Current buses are not designed to add seatbelts and to withstand the force applied when a passenger is in the seat,” Davis says. What they are designed for is to cushion the impact, should a passenger be thrown against a seat.

Davis estimates the addition of seatbelts to a 70-passenger bus would add about $15,000 to the $120,000 cost of a new bus. But he says school divisions can’t be expected to pay the full cost.

“We will strongly advocate (for) funding support by the provincial government,” Davis says, adding it would be critical for compliance, should seatbelts become mandatory.

Transport Canada is responsible for setting school bus safety standards; it also conducts safety tests to make certain school buses continue to be the safest mode of transportation for children. Davis has been a member of the Canadian Standards Association’s technical committee for new school buses for more than 10 years.

In a subsequent interview with The Leader last week, Davis said his “gut feeling” is that seatbelts will become mandatory. He’s all for it generally, but says there are implications that come along with it that must be considered and dealt with.

For example?

“Is the operator required to inspect every belt?”

If so, Davis says, it could add as much as half an hour to the pre-trip inspection and make routes longer by that much time. That would have implications as to the viability of some routes, given the maximum time limit allowed for a bus route.

“Where do you draw the line at an operator’s responsibility?”

Then there are potential difficulties related to seatbelts that aren’t working. Does that mean the seat can’t be used until it’s fixed? Would the school division be willing to risk it, given liability questions? It might result in school buses being out of service more often, with associated cost implications.

Davis said there were no collisions involving a third party (another vehicle, in other words) in the HPSD in 2018. However, there was a tragic incident in the central part of the province last year, in which a bus was hit hard from the rear and a passenger was killed. Incidents like that, Davis said, are fueling the push for seatbelts. He thinks it unlikely in that case a belt would have saved a life, but he can’t say for sure.

Whatever’s safest for the kids is what High Prairie School Division bus boss Harry Davis supports. But there are a lot of things to consider, and the cost is only one of them.

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