The tragic Christmas Eve bus accident that killed four people in British Columbia has brought bus safety to the forefront.
Although the investigation into the accident is still in its early stages, one of the first discoveries was that few people on board the Ebus were wearing their seat belts when the vehicle rolled over the connector. Okanagan as it traveled from Kelowna to Vancouver in wintry conditions.
The accident left four people dead and dozens more in hospital.
“I really think seatbelts would have saved lives, seatbelts would have reduced some of the injuries,” Const. James Ward, a veteran BC Highway Patrol collision investigator, told PKBNEWS.
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Under British Columbia’s Motor Vehicle Act, anyone traveling in a vehicle is legally required to wear their seat belt while that vehicle is in motion. It is the individual’s responsibility to buckle up if they are an adult, or the driver if the passenger is under 16 years old.
But enforcing that bus law is difficult, Ward said. The police cannot see inside the coaches while they are moving, and once they are stopped it is not illegal to be unrestrained.
Ward said the resulting security gap is worth examining.
“You can’t expect the bus operator to be a police officer enforcing the Motor Vehicle Act — he’s not; have the power to do so,” he said.
“However, should it be treated like an airplane, where everyone gets on the plane, they won’t take off until everyone buckles their seatbelts? Maybe the buses need to start doing this where they are at the bus depot, the driver walks down the aisle or makes an announcement and says we’re not leaving until everyone buckles up of security.
The crash also raised questions about the road conditions at the time of the crash, as well as the driver’s level of experience.
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At a press briefing on Tuesday, Transport Minister Rob Fleming said that at the time of the crash, contractors were maintaining the highway to required standards and bus drivers across the province were expected to adhere to minimum requirements.
“It’s called a class two license. It covers the requirements and examines the potential drivers of coach operating skills,” he said.
But some in the industry say the training required to obtain a Class 2 license is insufficient for British Columbia’s unique and often extreme driving conditions.
James Cooper is an operator with 30 years of experience in all types of commercial driving, including buses and tractor-trailers.
He told PKBNEWS the province needs to update its training requirements.
“I believe BC drivers in all commercial classes need more advanced training to handle winter conditions,” he said.
“I think we miss that training end, it hasn’t been changed since the 1970s, it absolutely needs to change as we look at the potentials for future climate change that will affect winter conditions.”
After the Humbolt Broncos bus crash, the federal government implemented more rigorous mandatory training for transport truck drivers with Class 1 licenses, which Cooper says does not apply to drivers of bus.
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Regulatory changes often stem from tragedies such as this bus accident, and once the RCMP investigation is complete, the department may end up making changes to the rules to better protect drivers and passengers.
Cooper said he hoped these changes would come and that they were the result of careful study and not a knee-jerk reaction.
“I don’t think training them to deal with different situations and scenarios is that difficult,” he said.
“I think what it will take is a willingness on the part of the government to add things like winter approval or mountain approval to bring those drivers up to speed, understand the conditions and give them a little more power to say no when conditions deteriorate.
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