The tragic Christmas Eve bus crash that killed four people in B.C. has put passenger bus safety into the spotlight.
While the investigation into the crash remains in its infancy, one early finding was that few people aboard the Ebus were wearing seatbelts when the vehicle rolled on the Okanagan Connector as it travelled from Kelowna to Vancouver amid wintry conditions.
The crash left four people dead and sent dozens to hospital.
“I definitely think seatbelts would have saved lives, seatbelts would have reduced some of the injuries,” Const. James Ward, a veteran collision investigator with the B.C. Highway Patrol, told Global News.
Under B.C.’s Motor Vehicle Act, anyone travelling in a vehicle is legally required to wear their seatbelt while that vehicle is in motion. The onus is on an individual to strap themselves in if they’re an adult, or the driver if the passenger is younger than 16.
But enforcing that law on buses is difficult, Ward said. Police can’t see inside coaches while they’re moving, and once they’re stopped it’s not illegal to be unstrapped.
Ward said the safety gap that creates is worth reviewing.
“You can’t expect the bus operator to be a police officer and enforce the Motor Vehicle Act — they don’t; have the authority to do so,” he said.
“However, should it be treated like an aircraft, where everybody gets on the plane, they won’t take off until everybody has their seatbelts on? Maybe buses gotta start doing that where they’re at the bus depot, the driver does a walk down the aisle or does an announcement and says we won’t leave until everyone has their seatbelt attached.”
The crash has also raised questions about road conditions at the time of the crash, along with the driver’s level of experience.
At a press briefing Tuesday, Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said at the time of the crash contractors were keeping the highway to the required standard, and that bus drivers in the province must meet minimum requirements.
“It’s called a Class Two licence. It covers requirements and examines potential drivers for skills operating a coach,” he said.
But some in the industry say the training required to get a Class Two licence is insufficient for B.C.’s unique, and often extreme driving conditions.
James Cooper is an operator with 30 years of experience across all types of commercial driving, including buses and tractor trailers.
He told Global News the province needs to update its training requirements.
“I believe drivers in B.C. in all commercial classes require more advanced training to handle winter conditions,” he said.
“I think we’re lacking on that end of training, it’s not been amended since the ’70s, it definitely needs to change as we’re looking at potentials of climate change coming on which is going to affect winter conditions.”
After the Humbolt Broncos bus crash, the federal government implemented more rigorous mandatory training for transport truck drivers with Class One licences, which Cooper said does not apply to bus drivers.
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Changes in regulation are often born out of tragedies such as this bus crash, and once the RCMP investigation is complete, the ministry may end up making changes to rules to better protect drivers and passengers.
Cooper said he hopes those changes come, and that they are the result of careful study, not a knee-jerk reaction.
“I don’t think training them to deal with different situations and scenarios is that difficult,” he said.
“I think what its going to take is a willingness on the government’s part to add in items like a winter endorsement or a mountain endorsement to bring these drivers up to speed, to understand conditions, and give them a little bit more power to say no when the conditions deteriorate.”