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The New Brunswick government has changed its policy on the kind of tires that are required on multi-function activity buses (MFABs) transporting students in the province and made winter tires mandatory.
The change comes after a two-year dispute with parents of several students from Bathurst High School who were killed in a highway crash involving a school van.
"The new policy is based upon tests completed by Transport Canada that showed this was the safest option," said a news release issued by the Department of Transportation on Tuesday.
Mothers of three boys who died in the Jan. 12, 2008, van crash near Bathurst, N.B., had arranged to have the tire configurations currently used on activity buses in the province's schools privately tested in Michigan. The testing was to take place Wednesday.
The province resisted doing such testing itself, saying the 21-seat buses it instituted following the Bathurst crash were safe and didn't need winter tires on all wheels. It has now come around to the parents' view and ordered 28 winter tires for its 14 MFABs, at a total cost of $5,000.
The tires are expected to arrive within days and will be installed over the next week at Department of Transportation maintenance shops, said Transportation Minister Denis Landry.
The province had previously argued that having winter tires on the back and ribbed all-season tires on the front was the safest tire combination.
"There was not a national precedent to follow for these vehicles," said Landry.
Up until the recent change, New Brunswick had followed the advice of an independent consultant and two leading tire manufacturers, he said.
But last month, the province asked Transport Canada to perform tests on the vehicles at highway speeds to determine the safest tire configuration.
Transport Canada conducted four comparisons with the 21-passenger MFABs using 16-inch tires and driving at highway speeds, using all winter tires and using two ribbed, all-season tires on the front, said Landry.
It concluded the MFABs perform and manoeuvre better with six winter tires.
"Ensuring student safety is our No. 1 priority," Education Minister Roland Haché said in the release.
"Now that a clear federal recommendation — one that takes into account the specific vehicle, its use, our climate, travel routes and speed limits — is in place, we will take immediate action to ensure our MFABs are equipped with six winter tires," he said.
Isabelle Hains, Marcella Kelly and Ana Acevedo had arranged for free testing to be done by Continental Tires in Michigan and were travelling there this week to observe the testing. The mothers said they were not getting the answers they needed from the province about what combination of tires is safest.
Daniel Hains, 17, Javier Acevedo, 17, and Nikki Kelly, 15, were among seven members of the Bathurst High School basketball team killed when the 15-seat school van they were travelling in collided with a truck on Jan. 12, 2008. The coach's wife was also killed in the crash.
The players and adults were on their way home from a high school basketball tournament held in Moncton. It was snowing, and the van, a 1997 Ford Econoline F350 Club Wagon, did not have winter tires.