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Should school buses have mandatory seatbelts? B.C. premier responds after crash

A photo posted on social media shows a yellow school bus down an embankment off Highway 97 near Lac La Hache, B.C., on June 21, 2024. (Facebook) A photo posted on social media shows a yellow school bus down an embankment off Highway 97 near Lac La Hache, B.C., on June 21, 2024. (Facebook)
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The B.C. government will consider updated seatbelt regulations following a school bus crash near Lac La Hache that left more than a dozen people hospitalized last week, Premier David Eby said Monday.

The bus was carrying students and staff from two schools – 100 Mile Elementary and Horse Lake Elementary – when it crashed down an embankment on Friday afternoon, leaving many of the people on board injured.

B.C. Emergency Health Services said responders provided "a variety of levels of care" to 36 patients at the scene, and that 14 people were taken to hospital by ground or air ambulances.

Asked about the incident at an unrelated news conference Monday, Eby called the lack of mandatory seatbelts on school buses "strange," and vowed to explore the issue further with federal counterparts.

"I'm not sure why that regulation hasn't been made," Eby told reporters.

"We'll look at this particular incident and work with Transport Canada and determine whether or not safety, generally, would be improved for kids with respect to seatbelts on buses."

While Transport Canada mandates seatbelts on most vehicles, the agency does not require that seatbelts be installed or used on school buses.

According to a statement on the Transport Canada website, seatbelts can provide "added protection" for school-age children on buses – but they can also have a "negative impact" on safety if not installed or used properly.

"Making sure all children are properly secured in seatbelts is a lot more challenging in a 70-passenger school bus than in a five-passenger car or seven-passenger minivan," the website reads.

"This is one of the reasons we allow provinces, territories and school bus operators to decide whether to install seatbelts."

Technical requirements for how seatbelts must be installed – if another level of government or an operator chooses to install them – have been included in the federal Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations since 2018.

In 2020 and 2021, new school buses equipped with three-point seatbelts were purchased for two B.C. school districts – Fraser-Cascade and Nanaimo-Ladysmith – as part of a pilot project between the federal and provincial governments.

The purpose of the pilot project was to "help gather information needed for any future application of the use of seat belts, if needed," Transport Canada said in a news release at the time.

Eby suggested his government would be open to updating regulations if it would increase safety.

"Any way that we can ensure our kids are safer, we're going to make sure that we take those steps," he said.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Ian Holliday

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