This fire which engulfed a school bus after a crash could have been much worse than a single fatality.

Fires continue spread in an unusually high number of incidents over recent years. News media report these outcomes as simple footnotes without much concern.

The most recent fire occurred on Windham Road 12 near Simcoe, Ontario. It was reported that an 80-year-old driver was travelling westbound which involved a requirement to stop at a stop sign. Judging by the southward location of the final rest positions of the vehicles it is likely that the driver was not travelling at highway speed and may very well have come to a stop at the stop sign before proceeding into the intersection with Nixon Road. Both vehicles travelled essentially south, or along the travel path of the school bus. This outcome would be expected because of the much larger mass of the school bus. However there was very little influence of the car’s mass in re-directing the bus’s post-impact motion and therefore a slow speed of the car would be a preliminary conclusion.

The photo below shows that there was substantial crush to the side of the car, as would be expected, due to the speed of the bus. However there is no explanation why the fire commenced or from which source the fire originated.

Although there was substantial crush to the right side of the car, there is no explanation why it, or the bus, caught fire.

In a significant collision it is uncommon for two striking vehicles to maintain contact throughout their post-impact trajectories to final rest. It will happen when the impact force is directed through the centres-of-gravity of the vehicles or, rarely, if there has been some snagging in the contacting structures.

Because of the danger to life that is created whenever a fire starts the Canadian and U.S. Federal Safety Standards provide a test of a vehicle’s fuel integrity and vehicles cannot be sold in North America if they fail that standard. Obviously federal agencies such as Transport Canada and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) cannot test every vehicle therefore there are a lot of vehicles on the road whose fire performance in crashes is unknown. That is why it is essential for police and other agencies who investigate such incidents report any fires to the federal agencies so they can be tracked. It is this tracking which can inform the federal agencies that a safety related problem may exist. Without that reporting the public is at risk of being badly injured or dying needlessly from a fire that should not have occurred.

It becomes the responsibility of news media to inform the public of the existence of the safety standards and to report any incidents that appear suspicious. They should also be asking the investigating police whether they will be reporting these incidents to federal agencies who monitor public safety on the road and they should be reporting to the public what was the result of that discussion with police.

In the present case the cause and source of the fire is not clear and therefore suspicious. It was reported that the bus was filled with passengers that go out of the bus without incident. And it was also reported that police were able to extricate the deceased from the burned vehicle such that the fire reportedly did not cause his fatal injuries. But the situation could have been much different if extrications were not possible, particularly for the many passengers on the school bus. Thus the matter cannot be taken lightly.