Hockey is back in Saskatchewan, even if the grief of the Humboldt Broncos tragedy still resonates.
The Estevan Bruins were the first Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team to take a bus since the accident that claimed 16 lives. On the way to their playoff game against the Nipawin Hawks, the Bruins stopped to pay their respects at the scene.
Like most other amateur teams in the country, they took a bus. And head coach Chris Lewgood says they never thought twice about it.
“Travelling on the bus on off days is some of the best days you spend in junior hockey,” he said. “And we cherish those times together. It’s where the bonds are built.”
In truth, the team had little to worry about. The Canada Safety Council reports it’s extremely rare to have fatalities in bus crashes as fewer than one per cent of all road fatalities in Canada can be linked to buses. They’re big and heavy and passengers sit high off the ground, making them remarkably safe.
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However, safety advocates are suggesting this is the time to revisit the debate on bus safety. What’s safe can always be made safer, they say. Two major debates need to be resolved regarding snow tires and seatbelts.
Of all the provinces, New Brunswick has the strictest rules. In 2008 a 15-passenger van carrying a basketball team collided with a truck near Bathurst, resulting in eight deaths. In the wake of that tragedy, the province banned the use of vans to carry teams, limited the hours teams could travel and made snow tires mandatory.
“To this date, New Brunswick is the only province that requires winter tires on buses,” says Lewis Smith of the Canada Safety Council.
Buses, Smith adds, are heavy and a good all-season tire is considered enough for the vehicles to get enough traction. A similar argument is used regarding seatbelts. If either was in effect, could lives have been saved in Saskatchewan? Considering the severity of the crash, Smith says it wouldn’t have made much of a difference at the point of impact.
“The people who were thrown clear of the bus, the people injured in the aftermath of the collision,” Smith says, “those are the ones that we feel it’s reasonable we might have seen a difference had they had a seatbelt.”
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On April 6, the Humboldt Broncos team bus collided with a semi-truck while en route to an SJHL playoff game. Sixteen people were killed as a result of the crash. Nine people remain in hospital, two in critical condition.
The investigation into what happened continues so it’s unclear if seatbelts would have made a difference.
However, in Canada, there are no federal or provincial laws requiring seatbelts to be installed or for passengers to use them. Transport Canada began looking at regulating the mandatory installation of seatbelts on buses just last year. Oddly enough, the bus industry decided on its own to install seat belts on every new bus built since 2015.
Mike Cassidy, president of Maritime Bus, wants a national dialogue on the subject. He says most buses have cameras so the drivers can see 360 degrees around their vehicle, and GPS allows compliance officers to monitor if a bus driver decides to speed.
He says the seatbelt issue should be easy to resolve. Since they’re already being installed on buses, there would be no extra cost to operators. The problem, he says, are the passengers.
“The question is: Do the passengers wish to use them? And how do we regulate and police? And who should have that jurisdiction to do so? That’s a big question.”
While Transport Canada is looking at the mandatory installation of seatbelts, nothing is currently on the slate as far as a mandate to make people wear them.