Three Bathurst mothers who lost their sons in a tragic passenger van collision nearly two years ago have been advised by Denis Landry, New Brunswick’s Minister of Transportation, that his Department has no intention of testing the tires on the Department of Education’s new fleet of 21 passenger Multi Function Activity Vehicles (MFAVs).
As a result, the mothers say they will rent a 21 passenger vehicle and pay for it themselves in order to get the scientific testing done quickly in Michigan.
Denis Landry told the mothers Tuesday that the NB Department of Transportation “will not be undertaking its own study of tires” on 21 passenger MFAVs. Rather, he said “officials and technical experts along with Transport Canada are in discussions to resolve this issue.” (see Minister’s correspondence at http://www.vanangels.ca )
“The time has long since passed for ‘discussions’,” says Marcella Kelly, who lost her son Nikki in the crash. “It’s been two years since our sons were killed in a tragedy that was entirely avoidable. It’s been seven months since the Coroners Inquest recommended winter tires be used on all vehicles used to transport children. It’s been two months since we discovered the Bathurst High School MFAV is using mixed tires and now, we arrange for an offer for free testing at one of the world’s top research and development facilities and this is the answer we get from our government.”
Isabelle Hains, Marcella Kelly and Ana Acevedo have called upon the provincial government to put winter tires on the province’s fleet of 21 passenger MFAVs that replaced the now banned 15 passenger vans. The mothers say the NB Department of Education’s use of mixed tires on the vehicle is in violation of its own policies, is unsafe and contrary to the opinion of Canada’s leading tire experts, including Nigel Mortimer of Transport Canada and John Mahler, a veteran automotive journalist with the Toronto Star’s Wheels.ca.
With Mr. Mahler’s help, the mothers arranged for Michigan based Continental Tire’s Research and Development Division to conduct free testing on a 21 passenger MFAV similar to the one used by Bathurst High School to transport children to sporting events. However, Continental does not have a test vehicle so in early December, the mothers asked the Department of Education, which has a new fleet of 21 passenger MFAVs, for help.
They were told by Valerie Kilfoil, Education Department’s Communicatons Director, that they’d have to wait until January for the request to make its way through the “process”.
“We have a very narrow window of opportunity for free testing of the tires on this vehicle,” says Marcella Kelly. “Now that we know the Department of Transportation intends to do absolutely nothing in regards to testing, we can’t wait any longer to get the same answer from the Minister of Education, Roland Hache.”
Toronto based tire expert John Mahler said: “I find the refusal to allow safety testing of the 21 seat MFAV mini buses a sad comment on the New Brunswick government's bureaucracy. I can well understand a government's reluctance to spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars required for testing of this kind, but when the testing is offered free of charge to the people of New Brunswick, whose children ride these buses, it seems that this is just bureaucratic institutional stubbornness.” (For additional comments from Mr. Mahler go to http://blog.vanangels.ca/2009/12/john-mahler-veteran-automotive.html )
Isabelle Hains lost her son Daniel in the 2008 collision. She says the Ministers of Transportation and Education both know the risks they are taking by allowing children to be driven in mini-buses with mixed tires. Hains says Denis Landry ”has not even asked Transport Canada to undertake a study of tires” and accuses both Ministers of Education and Transportation of “fiddling while Rome burns”.
“These Ministers don’t care about the safety of children,” says Hains, “Because if they did, the Department of Education would haul those 21 passenger MFAVs off the road and the Department of Transportation would make these tests a priority, especially now, with the second anniversary of our son’s deaths around the corner and the full brunt of winter weather descending upon us.”
The mothers say it is to the New Brunswick government’s “eternal shame” that neither the Department of Transportation or Education would jump at the offer of free testing by Continental, which is one of the world’s leading tire manufacturers.
“If we have to pay for a rental vehicle ourselves, then we will.” Kelly says, adding that the Minister of Education has broken a promise he made in July to the parents of the Boys in Red to make the safety of children the top priority.
“We know better than anyone what happens when you leave the safety of your children in the hands of government,” says Kelly. “And we aren’t going to stand around and wait for another tragedy to occur while they sit around and ‘discuss’.”