Canadian legislation introduced in 2018 requires that all inter-city highway buses built after 2020 must be equipped with seat-belts. It was no coincidence that the legislation appeared shortly after the multi-fatal bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team in April of that year. While wearing seat-belts in a large inter-city coach is a good idea the legislation fails to address the second part of the Humboldt Broncos lesson: That the bus structure must also be of sufficient strength to prevent intrusion into where the occupants are seated while dissipating energy in a controlled manner. While there was great media coverage of the fact that driver error was responsible for the tragic Humboldt Broncos collision absolutely no mention was made of the fact that the roof of the Humboldt Broncos bus was lying on the ground after the collision, separated from the bus, and this would have exposed the bus occupants to the exterior environment.
The fundamental point is that what causes a collision is not necessarily what causes injury or death. Those are two different issues. Police and news media announce that drivers have been inattentive, speeding, or driving distracted and that is an important fact to make known. But in many instances driver failure may not be the cause of additional injuries or deaths. If other failures in a vehicle or of the roadway exist these additional factors could be the cause of increased injuries and death, independent of the driver error.
Due to the large mass of inter-city coaches they possess much higher levels of kinetic energy than typical light-duty vehicles. In a collision this energy must be dissipated in a controlled manner, typically through a pre-arranged destruction of structural components of the bus. If this is not done correctly higher levels of energy dissipation must occur when occupants make contact with the bus interior. Seat-belts have long been known for allowing occupants to “ride down” the collision forces through a controlled contact at the pelvis and torso that can withstand those forces better than other portions of the body. One of the key benefits of seat-belts is that they allow the occupant’s body to begin dissipating energy at an earlier time in the collision pulse and this allows additional time and distance to level out the peaks of acceleration which cause injury. But when coach structures are not designed properly they can reduce the effectiveness of seat-belts.
Presently bus structures can be best described as cardboard boxes. Although they appear to be rigid, results from real-life collisions demonstrate that bus structures either separate or collapse into the occupant compartment at unacceptably low levels of force. Federal agencies in the U.S. and Canada have had ample opportunity to detect this problem as there are decades of real-life collisions that have exemplified the problem.
Transport Canada was conducting studies of the safety of school bus structures 40 years ago. Back then they observed that certain failings needed correction and they setout to improve school bus structures. Yet, at this early time they also had the opportunity to detect that inter-city coaches were not much different that school buses and they also needed structural improvements. To this day Transport Canada has failed to inform the travelling public of the dangers of riding in inter-city coaches at highway speeds where collision severities could place them at unacceptable risk.
When unregulated, bus manufacturers will design buses according to market demands. If a bus is less expensive to purchase and operate that provides the manufacturer with a competitive advantage. However those lower costs can be generated by creating buses that provide minimal protection via weaker structures that collapse and/or separate. It is the responsibility of Federal regulators to step in and guide the manufacturers to provide occupant protection. This will no occur without federal involvement.
While seat-belted in cardboard boxes passengers of inter-city buses cannot be expected to understand the danger that exists. There are few persons who have access to the details of occupant injury and death in real-life collisions and none of this information is available to the travelling public. Even when major tragedies such as the Humboldt Broncos crash take place basic information about the cause of their deaths remain hidden as if it is none of the public’s business to know.