Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Experts questioned safety of van in N.B. crash for years before Bathurst tragedy: 2006 Conference of School Bus Drivers Unanimous support for MFAVs

CTV News
This article appeared on CTV news January 14, 2008, two days after the collision that killed our sons.

Click here to read original article on CTV News.

While a small New Brunswick community struggles to come to terms with a horrific accident that killed eight people, transport analysts are suggesting the group may have been safer inside another vehicle.

Seven members of the Bathurst High School basketball team and the coach's wife died as they travelled inside a van that has been banned from school-use in nearby Nova Scotia.

Their 15-seat Ford Club Wagon lost control early Saturday on an icy highway, slamming into a tractor trailer just south of Bathurst. Officials are still investigating, but have said that slippery conditions may have been a factor in the crash.

"The vehicle actually ripped open like a tin can," automotive expert Ron Campbell told CTV News.

"When this accident happened, I have to say that deep down in my heart, I felt, 'Oh my gosh, another 15 passenger van crash.'"

It's unknown if the vehicle rolled over in the accident after it lost control. But in the U.S., 15-seat van roll-overs have killed more than 1,500 people in the past 10 years.

David White, director of the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board's motor carrier division, said the province first began examining 15-seat vans about two decades ago.

"The province was watching the van issue during the 1980s," he told CTV News. "And having had a negative experience ourselves during the 80s, where we had fatalities as a result of collisions using these vehicles to transport young people."

Three members of a hockey team and a volunteer were killed in Nova Scotia in 1984, when their van crashed into the back of a transport truck in slippery road conditions.

"Politically, it was decided in the early 1990s that we needed to deal with the matter and bring regulations into place that would ensure that children who are traveling either to or from school, and for extra and co-curricular activities within our school system, were not being transported on large vans such as the 14 or 15 passenger van," said White.

He has tried to make 15-seat vans a national issue, working alongside the Canadian Standards Association.

CTV News obtained a letter the group sent last July to Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon, identifying the need for "a new classification of bus intended to replace the 15-passenger vans from transporting children to and from school-related activities."

The federal government has said it's reviewing the regulations surrounding the transportation of children, but it could take months to complete its investigation.

White has given his full support for using a "multi-function activity bus" that's made in Canada but mostly used in the U.S.

He said in 2006, at a national school bus conference in Halifax, federal officials asked a room of about 350 industry experts whether they would back such a vehicle for transporting children.

"I'm sure it was unanimous," said White. "I was there and when the hands went up in the room, I didn't see anyone that didn't have their hand up. Some of them had both hands up."