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Canada needs stronger seatbelt laws for coach buses, safety council urges

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WATCH: Aerial video shows destruction at scene of Humboldt Broncos bus crash

The tragic crash that left 15 members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team dead has sparked questions about bus safety in Canada.

FULL COVERAGE: Humboldt bus crash

Friday’s collision, which also left 14 others injured, occurred when the bus collided with a truck on Saskatchewan’s Highway 335. Both vehicles slammed into a ditch.

Retired RCMP collision analyst Rob Creasser says months of work could lie ahead for the experts starting an investigation into what caused the crash.

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Lewis Smith, manager of national products with the Canada Safety Council (CSC), told Global News that buses in Canada are “generally very safe.” But he added that fatal accidents tend to prompt conversations about what more can be done to increase road safety.

“Whenever there’s a fatal bus crash, or a bus crash that garners any significant national attention, that helps change regulations,” he said.

Officials have not confirmed if there were seatbelts on the team’s bus, and it’s unclear how much they would have helped in this particular case. But Smith says adding them to coach buses would generally make travelling in such vehicles much safer.

READ MORE: Powerful photos show a grieving Humboldt as a nation mourns horrific tragedy

Are seatbelts needed?

The CSC has been pushing for federal and provincial governments to enforce seatbelts on coach buses for years — but it says not all buses need them.

“School buses are designed specifically to make seatbelts redundant,” Smith said, explaining those seats have higher backs, are placed closer together and can absorb shock better.

“The reason that we suggest seat belts on coach buses is because coach buses are a lot like regular passenger vehicles. And they tend to use highways a lot more than school buses do, which exposes them to increased speed.”

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The safety expert added that coach buses have larger windows, which make the odds of being thrown out of the bus in a crash “exponentially higher” than with a school bus.

Saskatchewan does not have any laws enforcing seatbelts for bus passengers, Tyler McMurchy of Saskatchewan Government Insurance told Global News. McMurchy explained that many buses travel across provinces, so Saskatchewan would likely rely on Transport Canada to take the lead on the issue.

Transport Canada on seatbelts

Transport Canada explained in an email to Global News that it enforces Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, which includes specific requirements for motor coaches’ brakes, windows, stability control. Like other vehicles, buses must also meet standards for lighting, tires and other safety equipment.

Seatbelts are not mandatory for buses — but the issue is being discussed.

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READ MORE: Investigating Humboldt Broncos crash likely to be a long process, experts say

“In March 2017, Transport Canada proposed to mandate seat belts on medium and large highway buses, with the aim of improving bus occupant safety, consistent with regulations in the United States,” the email read. “This initiative is currently undergoing Canada Gazette Part I consultations.”

There are a few other safety regulations for buses that are either in consultation phases or will kick in within months. For example, another proposal undergoing consultation involves watching over federally regulated bus drivers’ working hours to minimize the risk of drivers overworking and driver fatigue.

Provinces and territories also share the responsibility for enforcing operational regulations, Transport Canada explained.

WATCH: Ukraine’s national hockey team pays tribute to Humboldt Broncos

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Ukraine’s national hockey team pays tribute to Humboldt Broncos

Seatbelts laws in other countries

Requiring seatbelts is a move the U.S. has already made. As of November 2016, new tour buses and ones that travel between cities require seatbelts under federal law. The rule doesn’t apply to city transit buses or school buses.

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Similar seatbelt laws have been in place in Britain since 2001. 

The only exemption for U.K.’s seatbelt law is for city buses, in which many passengers travel standing up.

WATCH: Seatbelts on buses?

2015 Transportation Safety Board report

While the Transportation Safety Board does not monitor road safety, it did conduct a review into what caused a crash between a public transit bus in Ottawa and a VIA Rail train in 2013.

The 2015 report flagged that Canada has no countrywide safety standard for municipal or coach buses. School buses, on the other hand, are required to meet several standards and pass crash tests.

WATCH: Hockey bus crash in Saskatchewan claims 15 lives

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Hockey bus crash in Saskatchewan claims 15 lives

As a result, the report indicated that school buses fare much better than others in collisions.

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“They’ve tended to have less damage and fewer injuries. So that’s what leads us to believe that a more robust, crashworthy design may have reduced the damage to the bus and may have avoided fatalities in this case,” TSB chair Kathy Fox said at the time.

— With a file from Global News reporter Leslie Young, The Canadian Press