Seatbelts in All Public Transport Vehicles?

A year before the Humboldt Broncos team bus— not equipped with seat-belts for the passengers— collided with a tractor-trailer on a rural Saskatchewan highway on April 6, 2018 killing 16 and injuring 13, the federal government had proposed a rule making seatbelts mandatory on all newly built ‘highway’ buses.

The final regulation for bus seatbelts was announced early in July 2018, but won’t take effect until September 1, 2020.  The Canadian Press is now reporting that Transport Canada had considered enacting the rule sooner, quoting an email dated April 8, 2018 from Michael DeJong, director general of motor vehicle safety to his colleagues saying, “We’re taking a hard look at the coming-into-force date, and as soon as we can, we’ll provide a specific (question-and-answer document) on the risks/implications of accelerating this date.”

The options for seatbelt implementation, reports say, included speeding up the coming-into-force date by as much as a year or having different dates for different size buses.  Transport Canada decided to stick with the 2020 date, however, because while bus manufacturers support the proposed regulations, they said they required adequate time for implementing them.

The provincial governments also said they needed time to “address issues around bus driver liability for child-restraint systems, as well as on standing passengers and unbelted minors.”  Creating testing to ensure regulatory compliance was another issue favouring more time.  Comment on this has reportedly come from Russell Herold, whose 16-year-old son Adam was the youngest crash victim on the Broncos bus.  Mr. Herold is asking, “Why wouldn’t they bring it in sooner rather than later?… If it would have saved one life, does that not benefit everyone?”

A key consideration is that this new rule applies to new buses. Transport Canada has said “it assumes anywhere from 25 to 75 per cent of buses are already equipped with seatbelts and the overall cost to equip the remainder is expected to be less than $1 million a year.” Most big tour buses where all passengers can and must be seated are now equipped with seat belts.

While all school buses are in the same category, i.e. all passengers can and must be seated, if they are not all currently equipped with seat belts, the necessity of moving forward on this promptly would seem to be without question. Kids can be taught how to use their seatbelts and, presumably, kids of all ages are well versed in seatbelt usage in whatever other vehicles they travel in.

Public transit buses, many of which travel on highways, pose a problem.  In peak travel times there is insufficient seating for all passengers; standing has always been allowed.  It may seem odd to think of requiring seated passengers to buckle up while standing passengers are stuck with hanging on to straps and poles.

The legal liability issues and the cost of supplying buses (and sky trains) that can and must provide seats with seatbelts for all passengers are significant.  Yet when we consider how long we have known about the effectiveness of seatbelts in reducing fatalities in all types of crashes, it seems ‘odd’ that we aren’t there already.