I was sitting in a hotel room in Penticton when I heard about the Humboldt Broncos tragedy. Fifteen dead, fourteen injured, and it's going to be a long while before we know what exactly happened. As a parent, I found myself instantly grieving for the young men and their loved ones. Three days from now, after all, I will be putting my daughter on a bus as she and her team head off to their own playoff games. You always worry for your children when you send them away, but this week the words there but for the grace of God go I hover just that much nearer the surface of my brain as she prepares for her trip. And burying my child or her friends is a there I never want to have to travel.
A tragedy like that of the Humboldt Broncos leaves a person asking questions. How is it possible that every person on the Broncos bus could have either been killed or injured? How bad does an accident have to be in order for that to happen? Would seat belts have reduced the injuries incurred? What exactly are the seat belt regulations for Canadian buses?
There is a difference in the design of school buses and transport buses which makes seat belts on school buses redundant, according to the Transport Canada website. School buses are designed with a passive safety system known as compartmentalization in which, "the system uses the seats, and the bus interior, to form a protective compartment in case of a collision." As well, using lap belts on school buses may increase injuries, as children's bodies "may pivot around the belt, causing the head and neck to hit the seat back in front of the child. In addition, it is difficult to ensure that all children are wearing the belt correctly, low over the hips. If the belt rides up, the force may be concentrated in the stomach and spinal area, causing serious internal organ or spinal cord damage."
Coach buses, on the other hand, are designed similarly to passenger vehicles. Their larger windows increase the chance of passenger ejection. They also frequently travel at highway speeds. It seems probable that seat belts could save lives in the incidence of a bus-involved crash.
Currently, there are zero requirements for transport buses to be fitted with seat belts in Canada, although in March of 2017 Transport Canada recommended that these regulations be changed. The recommendations are "undergoing Canada Gazette Part I consultations,” according to an email sent by Transport Canada to Global News.
Global's Maham Abedi also notes:
There are a few other safety regulations for buses that are either in consultation phases or will kick in within months. For example, another proposal undergoing consultation involves watching over federally regulated bus drivers’ working hours to minimize the risk of drivers overworking and driver fatigue.
Should new seat belt requirements become successfully standardized, the issue of enforcement would need to be addressed. Because buses routinely travel across provincial boundaries, the responsibility for enforcing seat belt regulations would be shared by the provinces and territories.
Regardless of the financial and constitutional costs involved, I for one would support legislation making seat belts mandatory on all passenger coaches.