Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Canadian mothers push to end use of 15-seat vans for students

Isabelle Hains and Stella Gurr in Ottawa, May 27, 2010.

By Richard Foot, Postmedia News September 29, 2010

To read the original article in the Montreal Gazette

HALIFAX — Canada's federal and provincial transport ministers must commit this week to banning the use of 15-seat passenger vans by the nation's schools, say two mothers who lost their sons in vans they call "death traps."

Isabelle Hains — whose 17-year-old son Daniel died in the 2008 Bathurst High School highway tragedy — has been invited, along with other road-safety advocates, to a private meeting Thursday with Transport Minister Chuck Strahl and his provincial counterparts, who are gathered in Halifax for an annual conference.

Hains will be joined by a small group of professional school-bus drivers, an official from the Canadian Standards Association, and Stella Gurr, a woman from Nanaimo, B.C., whose 26-year-old son was also killed in 2008 in a separate 15-seat van crash in Manitoba.

The group has been lobbying governments across Canada to take steps similar to those adopted in the United States in recent years to make it illegal to transport students and children in 15-seat vans.

So far only Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec forbid schools from transporting students in such vehicles, which were originally designed as cargo vans and later sold with passenger seats.

The Safety Forum — a U.S. consumer watchdog — has called the vans "death traps on wheels," because they lack many of the standard safety features and emergency-handling abilities of regular cars, minivans, and certified school buses.

The Canadian Standards Association recently passed a new standard endorsing 21-seat minibuses — a smaller version of the school bus — in hopes that schools and community groups would stop putting students in 15-seat vans.

Despite such warnings — buoyed by the awareness raised by the New Brunswick school tragedy that claimed eight people — most provinces still allow schools to put children in the vans. A Postmedia News investigation last year found that nearly 20 per cent of the school districts in Canada still use the vans, mainly to ferry students to and from sports and other extracurricular events.

Earlier this year New Brunswick NDP MP Yvon Godin introduced a private members' bill in Parliament aimed at outlawing the vans for children across Canada. The federal Transportation Department responded with an internal review of the subject.

Hains and Gurr believe the preliminary findings of that review will be revealed by Strahl to his provincial counterparts at their meeting this week.

"It's my duty as a mother to send a message loud and clear to the ministers to ban 15-passenger vans," Hains told reporters on Wednesday. "The time for studying and debating passed a long time ago. A new school year is upon us. The snow will soon be falling, and tens of thousands of children will be travelling in those vans this winter."

Strahl and his officials did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.
© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

To read the original article in the Montreal Gazette