Friday, January 1, 2010

N.B. government says it's using expert advice on tires for student vans

Published Thursday December 31st, 2009

FREDERICTON - The New Brunswick government says it is relying on expert advice to ensure its 21-passenger vans for students are safe amid concerns from parents that the vehicles aren't fully outfitted with winter tires.

Three women who lost their sons in a horrific van crash in northern New Brunswick two years ago have accused the government of not doing enough to ensure the safety of students.

The women from Bathurst are pushing the government to test the winter tires being used on the 21-passenger minibuses now operated by the Education Department.

But Valerie Kilfoil, a spokeswoman with the department, said the government received advice from Michelin and Goodyear on the best way to configure tires on the vehicles.

Kilfoil said the two tire companies recommended installing two winter tires on the rear and two ribbed, all-season tires on the front to improve vehicle control.

"When you put four winter tires on these 21-passenger vans, drive them on the highway at highway speeds, when you hit those brakes, because of the motion and dynamics of the way the vehicle is built, you risk losing control over your back end," she said Thursday.

"When you lose control over the back end of one of those vehicles, you either spin into the ditch or worse, you spin into oncoming traffic."

Seven members of the Bathurst High School boys basketball team, along with their coach's wife, were killed when their 15-passenger school van collided with a transport truck during a snowstorm in January 2008.

A subsequent coroner's inquest called for winter tires on all vehicles taking children to extra-curricular activities.

But Kilfoil said while many drivers know the benefits of having four winter tires over two, the government decided it was best to consult with experts in the tire industry.

"You can't talk to buddy at the tire store because most people know that four winter tires are the safest," she said.

"You have to talk to the motion and design experts and that's what we did."

In the aftermath of the Jan. 12, 2008, crash, 15-passenger vans were banned for student travel in New Brunswick.