Wednesday, February 24, 2010

N.B. school vehicles switch to winter tires

Published Wednesday February 24th, 2010
Transport Canada recommendation prompts change for students' safety

Click here to read original article in the Times Transcript

FREDERICTON - New Brunswick's multi-purpose school vehicles will have winter tires on every wheel by the end of this week, following a recommendation from Transport Canada yesterday.

On Jan. 15, the provincial Departments of Transportation and Education asked the federal department to investigate the safest tire configuration for the 21-passenger buses, used for school sports and extracurricular activities.

Yesterday, Transportation Minister Denis Landry said Transport Canada endorsed the use of snow tires on all wheels.

"Therefore, New Brunswick is making winter tires mandatory on these vehicles. I commend Transport Canada for working with us to help inform all jurisdictions on the safest tire configuration," he said.

New school transportation rules were introduced last summer in response to the January 2008 van crash that killed seven members of the Bathurst High School basketball team, as well as the coach's wife. The changes included banning 15-passenger vans and requiring winter tires be used between Nov. 1 and April 30.

Following an independent consultation and manufacturers' recommendations, the province employed the use of snow tires on the four rear wheels, but all-season tires on the front, which it believed was the safest configuration for highway use.

But some of the parents of those killed in the Bathurst crash lobbied the government to review that decision, urging the use of snow tires on all wheels.

"It's great that we know that the children now have the proper tire configuration," Isabelle Hains, whose son Daniel died in the crash, told the Times & Transcript yesterday.

Although she said the decision was a victory for the parents, Hains said it shouldn't have taken the government this long.

"They delayed with us all the way through, since we started in October and the result is exactly what we said in the beginning," she said.

"Not getting the tests done as quickly as possible, after what we went through, you'd think they would have done it at the drop of a hat."

Claude Williams, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Kent South, also said the decision was a long time coming.

"We will all recall the tragedy that happened," he said in French. "I believe it is good news to learn this from the minister. It's unfortunate that we had to wait for it to come from Transport Canada before we were able to make a decision. I think that the government should have acted sooner."

Just as when the decision to consult with Transport Canada was made last month, Hains said yesterday that it was upsetting to learn of the development through the media, rather than from the government.

She, along with two other mothers who lost sons in the crash, are currently at the Continental Tires facility in Michigan conducting independent testing of snow tires on a multi-purpose vehicle, something they undertook because they didn't think the province was moving quickly enough.

Although he said it was unfortunate the announcement came while the parents were out of the province, Education Minister Roland Haché said it was important to act immediately upon receiving the recommendation.

"We cannot be responsible for Transport Canada giving us the information today," said Haché, who could not say if the second opinion would have been requested without the mothers' efforts.

"It is possible that we would have done it. I'm not sure about that. 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, in the meanwhile, we went with what we thought was the safest for the kids."

Haché said that the use of multi-purpose vehicles would be suspended until they have the snow tires but, nevertheless, defended the previous policy.

"What has to be understood also is that it's not one tire that's really bad and the other's really good. The thing is, one is good and the other's the best," he said.

"As the Minister of Education, I have ordered each and every school district that they cannot drive any kids with those kinds of tires, prior to winter tires being put on. Nice weather or bad weather or storm, I don't care."

There are 14 multi-purpose vehicles being used for school activities in New Brunswick and the 28 new tires are expected to cost a total of $5,000.