MLA wants seatbelts to be mandatory on B.C. school buses
VICTORIA - A BC Liberal MLA is pushing the provincial government to make seatbelts mandatory on all new school buses.
On Monday, Laurie Throness, MLA for Chilliwack-Kent, introduced an amendment that would require seatbelts on all new school buses in B.C. after September 2021.
"The compartmentalization that is now in use by school buses do not protect children from rollovers or from side crashes" explained Throness.
Compartmentalization is a type of design that includes high-back seating, seats that are close together, energy absorbing material in the seats, and strong anchorages for the seats.
Minister of Transportation Claire Trevena said she would look at the private member's bill but preferred to wait for the results of a federal task force, which is consulting with provinces over school bus safety.
"We’ll wait for the task force to come out with its recommendations in January, six weeks away, and make a decision then," she added.
A preliminary report from the task force compiled data from the National Collision Database, which shows during school commute hours from 1998 to 2017, five school-aged children died while on a school bus; 158 died while walking to school; and 395 died in a passenger vehicle.
Gary Lillico, a bus driver from Agassiz, was at the legislature on Monday with Throness when the private member's bill was put forward. Lillico decided to petition Ottawa about a year ago to make three point seatbelts mandatory on all Canadian school buses after watching an exposé on school bus safety.
"I looked at my wife and said, you know what, I gotta do something," he explained. Lillico believes seatbelts would help reduce injuries and save lives, and his petition now has more than 120,000 signatures.
"The one that really hit home for me was the death in 2008 of a school child, Jennifer Noble. Her mother was a first responder, she had to actually attend her daughter’s death scene while on duty," added Lillico.
But there is also debate around whether seat belts would actually reduce injuries.
"Safety experts, including the Canada Safety Council, do not believe seat belts on school buses would improve safety," said the Canada Safety Council in a statement on its website.
The Association of School Transportation Services of B.C. said it was too early to comment on the bill. A page on its website dealing with seatbelts states:
"There is a good probability we would save more lives if we invest in more training for our drivers, bus safety education for students, reduced walk limits, public education campaign – to stop for school buses with red lights flashing, increased fines and enforcement for red light runners, electronic stability control and collision mitigation technology on school buses, 360 degree outside camera views for drivers and more buses transporting more children in the safest mode of transportation to get to school, The Black and Yellow School Bus."
Critics argue that better technology and training for drivers might be a better way to prevent crashes. They also point out the challenge around getting kids to comply with the rules and figuring out who would be liable if they didn't.
The bill wouldn’t require buses already in use to be retrofitted. Lillico doesn’t think Ottawa is interested in making that change either. Doing so would add thousands of dollars to the cost of each bus, which school districts would be left to deal with.
Still, Lillico believes if a seatbelt saves even one life, the change will be worth it.
"We're just trying to get enough attention because it's long overdue," he said.