Tuesday, September 15, 2009

MP calls for nationwide ban on 15-passenger vans

By Richard Foot, Canwest News Service

September 15, 2009

Click here to read the full article in the Calgary Herald.

Yvon GodinCanada should have a nationwide prohibition on the transport of school-children in crash-prone 15-passenger vans, says New Democrat MP Yvon Godin, who wants to introduce legislation in Parliament creating a ban.

"I would like to introduce a bill for Transport Canada to ban those types of vans for children in schools," he says. "What is more important than the safety of children?"

Two years ago, eight of Godin's constituents — a high school teacher and seven teenage basketball players — died when the 15-passenger van they were riding in swerved out its lane and collided with a transport truck near Bathurst, N.B.

In May, a coroner's inquest into the tragedy said 15-passenger vans should be outlawed for school-children across the country. However an investigation this summer by Canwest News Service shows the lessons of the accident have largely been ignored.

The vans remain in widespread use by dozens of school districts across Western Canada and Ontario, and are only legally outlawed for school use in Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

A 2008 survey by B.C.'s Ministry of Education found 15-seat vans were in use at more than half the province's 60 school districts.

Twelve-and-15-passenger vans are considered so unsafe they are banned for the transport of children in more than 30 U.S. states. Federal U.S. law also outlaws the sale of the vans to schools and daycares.

The vans were originally designed as cargo vehicles and don't have the safety features of most passenger cars.

They are prone to loss of steering control at high speeds and are more likely to suffer rollover crashes than any other vehicle, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

They have been labelled "death traps" by the Safety Forum, an American consumer watchdog agency.

Godin, who met this week with three of the families that lost sons in the New Brunswick accident, says it's time for the federal government to act.

"If New Brunswick, Quebec and Nova Scotia can ban the vans in those provinces, why can't the rest of us?" He says. "And why can't Transport Canada ban those types of vans for children?"

Transport Canada has done little to restrict the vehicles since the 2008 tragedy.

Transport Minister John Baird has declined to be interviewed on the subject. His department says the 2008 accident was not caused by the van-type itself, but by slippery roads, poor vehicle maintenance and driver error.

Transport Canada also says vehicle use is not its concern, but a matter of provincial jurisdiction.

However, Godin says Transport Canada is responsible for the importation of vehicles, as well as vehicle safety standards, and could pass a law similar to the one in the U.S., banning the purchase or leasing of 15-passenger vans by schools.

"Something could be done by the federal government. They could put restrictions on the vans." Click here to read the rest of this article in the Calgary Herald.