Saturday, January 9, 2010

Please Loan a Test Vehicle: An Open Letter to the Premier of New Brunswick from John Mahler, Toronto Star's Automotive Journalist

Click here to read Letter to the Premier of New Brunswick on Wheels.caClick here to read John Mahler's article in the Toronto Star's Tire Lesson Lost Already? about the use of mixed tires on the Bathurst High School's 21 passenger MFAV from November 23, 2009.

Click here to read John Mahler's Letter to the Premier of New Brunswick on the Toronto Star's, January 9, 2010.

John MahlerJan 09, 2010

to: New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham
from: John Mahler
re: Winter tires for small buses

Dear Premier Graham,

I am writing to ask you to lend one of your province's school vehicles for winter tire testing.

It is approaching the second anniversary of the tragic collision that claimed the lives of seven New Brunswick high school students. Since then, a group of mothers who lost their sons has been advocating for school vehicle safety.

From recent statements by your representatives it seems that your government is hindering these bereaved families instead of welcoming their work for children's safety aboard your government vehicles.

Your Minister of Transport, Denis Landry, recently said, "The Department of Transportation will not be undertaking its own study of tires on 21-passenger multi-function activity vehicles (MFAV). However, officials and technical experts along with Transport Canada are in discussions to resolve this issue, with the safety of students foremost in their minds."

But nobody I know has heard who these people are, or when a resolution is expected. Meanwhile, another winter rages on the East Coast.

The issue at hand is simple. What tire fitment is best for the MFAV class of school vehicles? No tire testing on MFAV minibus vehicles has ever been done. Everything said has been theory.

Bathurst High School's 21 passenger MFAV

The choices are for winter tires on rear wheels with all-season tires on the front, or winter tires on all axles. Your government has chosen the first option.

But there is a much longer list of experts with far more focused credentials who are convinced that you must have winter tires on all axles. And now, Continental Tire, one of the largest tire companies in the world, is offering to perform the instrumented scientific testing for your province at no cost.

Perhaps your current provincial standard will prove to be the correct one. If your standard proves to be lacking, it will cost the government very little to upgrade tires on the 21-passenger MFAV minibuses, and gain a leadership position in minibus safety.

New Brunswick has an opportunity to set a gold safety standard for the rest of the country. Let the memory of the lost "Boys in Red" from Bathurst High School motivate you to promote the highest level of school vehicle safety possible.

And if you opt not to do this, can you tell Canadians why not?

Your Department of Education spokesperson, Valerie Kilfoil, has said the department isn't in a position to make any snap decisions when it comes to handing out their vehicles. In a newspaper interview, she said it's not likely the mothers will receive an imminent answer, and suggested that perhaps it would be better if they rent their own bus.

But as you know, this tire argument is not new to New Brunswick. A similar argument led to a test of the province's ambulance fleet and new tire policies were established.

According to Rick Marois, CEO of Ambulance New Brunswick, by February 2008 all New Brunswick ambulances were fitted with winter tires on all axles. The ambulance service has since been recognized with an award for its safety.

Congratulations to them. I'm certain it's a huge bonus to that service to know that in the unhappy event of another terrible winter road collision, they will be well-equipped to reach any victims swiftly and safely.

Instead of seeing these saddened families as a problem, why not see them as presenting an opportunity for your government to show it does what's right? Loan them the MFAV minibus for a test.

John Mahler,

Toronto Star Wheels

PS: If your government still can't help, do you know of any organizations, church groups, school bus companies or used-bus dealers who can supply a vehicle?

I am looking specifically for a passenger minibus based on a Ford or GM one-ton truck chassis with dual rear wheels. It will be driven to Continental Tire's huge test facility at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., for the week of Feb. 15 or Feb. 22.

Continental will do the actual testing of several types of tires on the bus, which is nothing unusual or damaging to the vehicle; while it's fully insured, there has never been an accident on the site.

If you know of somebody who could supply the vehicle, it would be a great service for child transportation safety.

Click here to read John Mahler's article in Tire Lesson Lost Already? about the use of mixed tires on the Bathurst High School's 21 passenger MFAV from November 23, 2009.

Click here to read John Mahler's Letter to the Premier of New Brunswick on the Toronto Star's, January 9, 2010.