Ten years after a highway crash in Bathurst, N.B. that killed eight people, including seven members of a high school basketball team, some are asking whether any lessons were learned from that crash that could have prevented the tragedy that unfolded last Friday in Humboldt, Sask.
In January, 2008, a 15-passenger van carrying the Bathurst High School basketball team slid into the path of a transport truck on a snowy night, killing seven players and the coach’s wife. The team’s coach -- who was at the wheel at the time -- his daughter, and two other players survived.
Last week, a bus carrying the Humbold Broncos collided with a semi-trailer at a rural intersection north of Tisdale.
Of the 29 people on board 16 have died.
Lewis Smith, the manager of national projects at the Canada Safety Council, tells CTV’s Your Morning that, while the tragedies are similar, bus transportation in general tends to be one of the safest modes of travel. In fact, bus collisions account for less than 1 per cent of all road fatalities.
Nevertheless, he says several lessons were learned after the Bathurst crash that changed the way school groups and teams are transported in New Brunswick.
Both the RCMP and Transport Canada compiled reports about the crash and found serious safety problems with the 15-seat-van, including poorly functioning brakes, and a rusting body that should not have passed the inspection the van had gone through just months before.
As well, the reports found the van was using all-season tires, not snow tires, and those tires were mostly worn.
In the years that followed, family members of those who died successfully pushed for changes in the provincial rules for student travel. Most notably, 15-passenger vans were banned in New Brunswick for student transportation.
“That was certainly the big one. Other changes included making snow tires mandatory from October to April on student transport buses. And also, a code legislating no student transportation between midnight and 6 a.m., which was the time frame in which the Bathurst incident occurred,” Smith said from Ottawa.
But those new rules apply only to student transportation in New Brunswick.
In the Humboldt crash, the young men were travelling in a coach bus which, in some ways, can be less safe than school buses, he says.
“On coach buses, the big difference is that coaches tend to ride the highway more, which exposes them to more speed and other vehicles going at similar speeds,” Smith said “…If something goes wrong, it’s going to be amplified by the speed.”
The other big difference is the size of the windows. School buses are engineered with a lot of framing and small windows, but coach buses have large windows for sightseeing. Those big windows make it easier for passengers to be thrown out of the bus if there is a crash.
Many coaches are now equipped with seatbelts, but passengers tend not to use them -- perhaps in part because on school buses, kids don’t need to use belts because the bus design makes them superfluous, says Smith. (The Canada Safety Council holds the view that seatbelts on school buses would not improve safety or save lives.)
But seatbelts can save lives on coach buses. The problem is that passengers are reluctant to use them. Smith says that seems to be the case with hockey teams where many players see the bus ride home as a social event.
“Many people wander the aisles or stand up to play cards. The players see no real necessity to wear the belts,” he said.
Smith says it’s difficult to say whether seatbelt use would have saved lives in the Humboldt crash, since so little is known about the crash cause. But he believes attitudes about seatbelt use need to change so that bus passengers wear them even when they feel safe.
“That’s a big part of safety: being preventative rather than reactionary,” he said.