Bureaucracy often moves at a snail’s pace. But sometimes the pace needs to be speeded up — particularly when lives are at stake.
That’s the situation with respect to making seatbelts mandatory on highway buses. As indicated in a Canadian Press story in Monday’s Herald, the father of a teen who was killed in the Humboldt Broncos’ bus crash is wondering why the federal government is waiting two years to implement the proposed safety measure.
It’s a good question.
The government had initially proposed the mandatory seatbelt idea more than a year before the April 6 tragedy that killed 16 people on the hockey team’s bus in a collision with a semi-trailer. The CP story points out that according to internal documents, Transport Canada considered moving up the timeline in the days following the Humboldt crash, including possibly pushing ahead implementation by as much as a year.
Instead, it was decided to introduce the new measure on Sept. 1, 2020.
Russell Herold, whose 16-year-old son Adam was the youngest crash victim, wonders why the delay.
“Why wouldn’t they bring it in sooner rather than later,” Herold asked. “If it would have saved one life, does that not benefit everyone?”
It’s hard to argue with that. The value of seatbelts in saving lives in vehicle crashes is well documented. That’s why seatbelt laws have long been in force across the country. It stands to reason that if seatbelts save lives in crashes involving cars, trucks and SUVS, they can do the same in bus crashes.
The new seatbelt rule would apply to newly built buses, since those already in operation fall under the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories. Transport Canada estimates that anywhere from 25 per cent to 75 per cent of buses are already equipped with seatbelts, and that the cost to provide seatbelts in the remainder would be less than $1 million a year.
That’s quite a range — between 25 and 75 per cent. If the actual figure is at the low end, that means two-thirds or more of buses travelling the highways could be without seatbelts. And if they’re under provincial jurisdiction, then it’s the provinces that need to take action to make seatbelts mandatory.
Transport Canada’s research indicates that seatbelts would reduce the likelihood of fatalities in a collision by 77 per cent in the case of a rollover and by 36 per cent in other types of crashes. Those are significant numbers, enough to show that seatbelts should definitely be used on highway buses.
Given the demonstrated potential for saving lives, and for reducing the severity of injuries, it makes good sense to ensure highway buses are equipped with seatbelts as soon as possible. Admittedly this isn’t entirely the federal government’s responsibility — the provinces need to get on board, too.
But the sooner buses are made safer for passengers, the sooner lives can be saved. And that’s worth the effort.