Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau (“Garneau”) has suggested that a decision to implement seatbelts in school buses is forthcoming. In a recent announcement, Garneau disclosed that a task force has been established to look into the possibility of equipping school buses with seatbelts. In a recent interview, Garneau told Radio-Canada, “We’re ready for this and we’re going to act as quickly as possible”.
In October 2018, Garneau instructed his department to review the topic of seatbelts on school buses following an investigation by The Fifth Estate, which revealed serious flaws in the study that Transport Canada has always relied upon to claim that children were safer without seatbelts on buses. Garneau stated:
I have instructed my department to take an in-depth look at the question of seabelts in buses – a fresh look based on all of the evidence that has been collected since all the way back to 1984.
Until recently, it was purported that children traveling on school buses were protected during a collision by the absorption of force by the built-in infrastructure on the school bus, known as compartmentalization.
In response to the horrific crash that took place last year involving the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team, Transport Canada announced last summer that it will require all newly built highway buses to have seatbelts. Transport Canada is the government agency that controls road safety standards and regulations. This development, however, would not apply to school buses.
THE FIFTH ESTATE INVESTIGATION
The Fifth Estate investigation exposed problems with a 1984 study that Transport Canada had always relied upon to campaign against the use of seatbelts on school buses. This investigation revealed that government officials have been well aware that seatbelts can save lives and will prevent injuries on school buses.
Suzanne Tylko, of Transport Canada, was interviewed by The Fifth Estate, and admitted that although seatbelts do not prevent all injuries and deaths, they “do prevent ejection” and are a “good first step”.
The Fifth Estate investigation also uncovered a test crash study authored by Suzanne Tylko which revealed that current school bus safety is “not effective in side impacts”, suggesting that something needs to be done in order to reduce or eliminate serious injuries.
The investigation, which reviewed numerous studies throughout North America completed by academics and test crash facilities, examined computer modeling, and interviewed safety experts and scientists, revealed that seatbelts would have prevented numerous serious injuries and deaths on school buses.
The inquiry found that Transport Canada had initially scheduled seatbelts to be installed in school buses in the late 1970s. However, this plan was scrapped as a result of the “cost-benefit ratio due to the low number of accidents involving school buses”, according to a 1985 Transport Canada document.
Currently in Canada, there is no law that mandates seatbelts in school buses. The federal government is responsible for bus safety requirements and the individual provincial governments are responsible for enforcement and fines.
The federal government has the authority to mandate seatbelts on all new school buses without provincial approval. However, consultation with the provinces will be required to determine where the money will come from to retrofit existing school buses with seatbelts.
WHO CAN BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR A BUS ACCIDENT?
Many Canadians rely on buses to transport their children to school or to travel for work or for pleasure. If you or a loved one have been involved in a bus accident, you may have a legal right to seek compensation through a personal injury claim if the motor vehicle accident was caused by someone else’s negligence (failure to use reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to another).
There are several parties that could potentially be held liable for any injuries suffered as a result of a bus accident, depending upon the circumstances. This could include the following parties:
- Bus Company (responsible to follow laws and regulations, hire properly trained drivers, and maintain the vehicles appropriately);
- Bus Driver (responsible to follow the rules of the road and refrain from texting, speeding, or other reckless behaviour);
- School Board (may be responsible for injuries students suffer while at school or being transported by a school bus);
- Third Party Driver (may be responsible for any negligent actions that caused the accident, such as rear-ending the bus); and/or
- Bus Manufacturer (may be responsible if a defective part caused the accident as there is a legal obligation to produce products that do not harm consumers).
We will continue to follow any developments that occur with respect to changes in the law regarding seatbelts on school buses, and will provide any updates in this blog.
In the meantime, if you or a loved one have been injured in a bus accident, you likely have many questions. Please contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie Lawyers to help answer all of your questions and determine whether you have a case. We offer free consultations for new clients. Contact us online or call our office to make an appointment at 403-571-0555. We look forward to helping you obtain the compensation that you deserve.