Sunday, November 15, 2009

Meeting with Education Minister Roland Hache Monday November 16 1 pm in Petit Rocher: Will Ask Him to Consider Outside Expert Opinion on Winter Tires

New Brunswick Minister of Education Rolande Hache
Three Bathurst mothers who lost their teenaged sons in a tragic accident that shook the nation are asking New Brunswick's Minister of Education, Roland Hache, to consider expert opinion from outside the province in an evaluation of the Department's winter tire policy.

Isabelle Hains, Marcella Kelly and Ana Acevedo are meeting with Minister Roland Hache at his Constituency office in Petit-Rocher, NB at 1 pm on Monday, November 16. (To contact the Minister, click here)

The mothers asked for the meeting to discuss the revelation that Bathurst High School's new 21 passenger Multi-Function Activity Vehicle (MFAV) - which replaced the now banned 15 passenger vans - is improperly outfitted with the wrong tires for winter.

21 Passenger MFAV not a Bus

Bathurst High School's 21 passenger MFAV
At present, Bathurst High School has two MFAVs: one 21 passenger MFAV and another larger MFAV which can carry up to 32 persons. According to Hains, who lost her 17 year old son Daniel in the 2008 collision, the smaller, 21 passenger MFAV is what concerns the mothers most because it is being wrongly classified as a "bus" and needs winter tires on all four wheels.

Bathurst High School's 32 passenger MFAV
Hains, Kelly and Acevedo have consulted with more than a dozen industry experts across Canada. They say that everyone they have spoken to, "from the Atlantic Tire Dealers Association to Girardin Minibus QC, (the company that manufactures the MFAV body) says that these type of vehicles need winter tires in winter, and by winter tires we mean the kind with a snowflake and mountain pictograph stamped into the rubber."

Leading Experts Agree

The three mothers have the support of John Mahler, an automotive journalist who specializes in tires, and Nigel Mortimer, one of Canada's leading winter tire experts who works with Transport Canada.

Mahler writes for the Toronto Star's Wheels Magazine. He says that changing the front tires on the 21 passenger MFAV to all seasons has not improved the vehicle from a safety piont of view.

"They have changed from one brand of all-seasons to another brand. Both are considered "ribbed tires" with the new Goodyear having slightly bigger rain grooves," explained Mahler in a letter to Hains dated November 6.

Front all season M S tire on the new Bathurst High School multifunction vehicle October 19, 2009

Concerning grip, Mahler says "It is conventional wisdom in the tire industry that all-season tires, winter tires and summer tires have the same grip (within a percent or two) at seven degrees above zero. After that as temperatures drop the summer tire loses grip very quickly, the all season tire loses grip slowly and the winter tire's grip increases relative to the other two. So as temperatures drop, the MFAV in question will have more and more grip in the rear and less and less in the front. This makes the handling of the vehicle very unpredictable."

Mahler warns the driver may find the vehicle "does not react as expected when brakes are applied or the steering wheel turned." He says "Unpredictable vehicle reaction in an emergency situation can lead to a crash."

Minister Can't Afford to Ignore Outside Opinion

Marcella Kelly also lost her 15 year old son Nikki in the Bathurst tragedy. She wants the Minister of Education to listen to outside opinion on this issue rather than relying on one consulting engineer from Fredericton who is in the employ of the Department.

"The Minister cannot afford to ignore the possibility that his expert is wrong, especially when every single expert we spoke to agrees that in winter, that vehicle needs winter tires."

In a letter to Mrs. Hains on Friday, November 13, leading winter tire expert Nigel Mortimer of Transport Canada said that he has spoken with New Brunswick's Ministry of Education and their consulting engineer "in an attempt to educate them in the matter."

While acknowledging that Transport Canada has no jurisdiction in the matter, Mr. Mortimer says "We continue to recomend winter tires in all wheel positions where the tires are available in the recomended size." and concludes by saying "I hope that my work in the matter will have the desired effect."

Hains, Kelly and Acevedo say that they will accept nothing less than a commitment from Minister Hache to a review of expert opinion on the use of winter tires on the Bathurst High School MFAV and the implementation of best practices based on its findings.

"We believe that once the Minister has all the information in front of him he will agree with us that it's in the best interest of children's safety to put the right tires on these 21 passenger MFAVs."