Wednesday, February 24, 2010

N.B. changes winter tire policy after repeated calls from crash victim parents

By Kevin Bissett (CP)

To read the original Canadian Press article, click here

FREDERICTON — The New Brunswick government has ordered the use of only winter tires for its fleet of 21-passenger minibuses used to transport students during the winter.

The change, announced Tuesday, follows months of heated debate between the government and the mothers of three high school students killed in a van crash in Bathurst, N.B., two years ago.

The minibuses - officially known as multi-function activity buses - replaced the 15 passenger vans like the one involved in the Bathurst crash.

Until now, the government had required four winter tires on the back and two ribbed, all-season tires on the front, based on the advice of a consultant and two tire manufacturers.

"We don't have that expertise, and we didn't have any means of testing, so we asked Transport Canada to do the tests and meanwhile we went with what we thought was the safest for the kids," said Education Minister Roland Hache.

Transportation Minister Denis Landry said they asked Transport Canada last month to test the vehicles and tires under New Brunswick highway conditions.

"Now that a clear federal recommendation - one that takes into account the specific vehicle's use, our climate, travel routes and speed limits - is in place, we are taking immediate action to ensure our multi-function activity buses are equipped with six winter tires," Landry said Tuesday.

Hache said he expected all 14 vehicles would have the new tires on the front within the next week, and would not be used until they have the new tires.

The news of the new policy took the Bathurst mothers by surprise.

Three of them are in Sault Sainte Marie, Mich., where they've arranged for their own independent tests of winter tires versus all-season tires on the front of the minibuses.

"It's a victory for us parents who have been struggling with the government to hear us, to listen to us, but the fact that they did the tests secretly and didn't tell us is very disrespectful on their part," said Isabelle Hains.

Hains's 17-year-old son Daniel was one of the victims of the January 2008 school van crash.

Marcella Kelly, who lost 15-year-old son Nikki, questioned the timing of the province's announcement, a day before the tire testing is to begin in Michigan.

"The government has known since December that we were going to Michigan for these tests," said Kelly. "While we're happy to see they're going to implement these changes, we know it would never have happened if we had not kept up the public pressure.

"They had no choice but to concede."

Seven players of the Bathurst High School boys' basketball team and an adult were killed when the van they were in struck a tractor-trailer on a slippery highway.

The investigation showed the vehicle had worn all-season tires.

Hains said they will proceed with the tire tests Wednesday despite the change in New Brunswick policy.

The tests at Continental Tire in Brimley, Mich., will be videotaped and documented, and Hains said she wants the results used to help educate the public.

Kelly said two tests are better than one.

She said she knows her son would be proud of the effort of all the parents who have worked to make school travel safer for other students in the future.