It was a considerable honour to work with Professor Ahmed Shalaby, Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Univ. of Manitoba, in preparing a co-authored brief that was presented to the House of Commons Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities on the issue of Bus Passenger Safety. Our report, dated May 16, 2016 was uploaded to the committee site at the following address:
High-lights from the brief included a discussion of the incompatibility of full size buses with impacts to roadside structures that are primarily designed for impact by passenger cars and light trucks. Photos of some examplar collisions from other countries helped to illustrate that our roadsides and buses are fundamentally similar and instances of multiple fatalities can be used as warnings of potentially similar tragic consequences in Canada.
The view was expressed that, while seat-belts should be installed in inter-city coaches that travel at highway speeds, the scenario is not the same for school buses where there is a real danger of causing major injuries and deaths to children from usage of improper restraints as well of improper usage of proper restraints. It was emphasized that abdominal injury to children is a real danger when the lap portion of a seat-belt restraint is not properly positioned/adjusted and in some instances proper positioning/adjustment cannot occur due to the usage of restraints that are inappropriate for the size of the child.
A recommendation called for a federal agency such as the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) to become empowered to investigate motor vehicle collisions in a similar capacity to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Up to now the TSB is not mandated to examine motor vehicle collisions unless they involve an impact of a vehicle from another mode of transportation such as an airliner or railway train.
The problem was glaring in wake of the tragic Humboldt Broncos bus crash in Saskatchewan over a year ago. No independent safety agency was mandated to conduct that investigation causing the RCMP, who are paid by the Province of Saskatchewan, not to release their report of the incident. One of the major causes of the crash, the blockage of sight lines at the intersection, was never properly revealed to the general public. Additional details about further causes, and how the bus passengers sustained their injuries were also never revealed. Such basic inadequecies would be expected to be nullified if a purely independent agency such as the TSB was involved in the investigation.
Recent, multiple-fatality, collisions of buses in the Ottawa area involving a train and the impact of a double-decker with an overhanging structure at a bus station were also emphased for the inadequacy of crashworthiness of bus structures.
The need for more detailed, reliable and publicly available collision data was also recommended. The current National Collision Database organized by Transport Canada from Provincial crash data needs improvements and the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) was referenced as the type of system that may be appropriate.
In summary, while bus transportation of passengers remains safe, it only requires a single major incident to cause multiple fatalities. Continued threats such as incompatible roadside structures, poor crashworthiness, entrapment during incidents of fire and drowning, along with a lack in proper documentation of these incidents continue to await improvements and leadership from the Canadian federal government.