October 15, 2018
The Fifth Estate recently ran a segment entitled “Unbuckled: School Bus Safety" (https://www.cbc.ca/fifth/episodes/2018-2019/unbuckled-school-bus-safety). The segment highlights a previously unreleased report dated 2010 from a researcher at Transport Canada which concluded that seat belts would be beneficial if a school bus was involved in a side-impact or roll-over collision. This is in contrast to the previously held Transport Canada position still present on its website that “Transport Canada has no evidence that three-point seat belts would improve the overall level of safety on a school bus.” (https://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/motorvehiclesafety/tp-tp2436-rs200407-menu-130.htm)
Transport Canada is the regulatory body at the federal level and is responsible for setting standards to direct the school bus industry and the broader transportation sector at large. When collisions involving school buses do occur, very few critical injuries or fatalities have occurred in the industry across Canada (24 in the last 34 years). Transport Canada is responsible for establishing the standards to which vehicles must be built, and provincially, the Ministry of Transportation is responsible for carrier inspections and compliance to keep the roadways safe.
The school bus industry has relied on the built infrastructure of the bus (compartmentalization) as a key safety factor. The seat height, distance and padding protect occupants during a collision by absorption of force. However, compartmentalization has now come under scrutiny as it is may not be as effective during side-impacts or rollovers as acknowledged by the Transport Canada researcher in the on-air segment.
The media attention arising from the Fifth Estate segment represents an opportunity to participate in a broader conversation on the importance of school bus safety with regulatory stakeholders at Transport Canada and the Ministry of Transportation. The discussion is timely in light of the newly-passed federal regulation requiring all medium and large highway coaches to be equipped with seat belts as of 2020. School boards and consortia will continue to actively participate in important conversations that support student well-being and safety.
In the Province of Ontario, 40% of students are transported by school purpose vehicles each day. 830,000 students travel more than 1.8 million kilometres per day on 19,000 school purpose vehicles between their homes and schools or more than 310 million passenger trips per year travelling over 673 million kilometers.
School buses remain one of the safest forms of travel. School bus drivers have special licencing requirements, including defensive driving techniques, with scheduled mandatory refresher training. Driver training combined with pre and post trip inspection protocols and MTO regulated vehicle inspection schedules also contribute to the high safety rating of the school bus industry. Statistics on motor vehicle collisions of all types can be found in the Ministry of Transportation’s Annual Road Safety Report (http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/publications/ontario-road-safety-annual-report.shtml).
School Bus Safety Week is next week (October 22-26, 2018). With the additional attention on vital importance of school bus safety, this is also an opportunity to ask parents and guardians to remind their students of key safety messages when they are on board – be seated and remain seated for the entire ride, take the backpack off and hold it or stow it under the seat and on board behaviour play vital roles in ensuing everyone has a safe ride.