Friday, September 17, 2010

Telegraph Journal: School safety advocate wants mandatory licensing

Isabelle Hains wants the next provincial government to follow through on a coroner's inquest recommendation last year to require drivers of vehicles for school extra-curricular activities to have a Class 2 driver's licence. Photo by Ben Shingler

Transportation: Bathurst mother says new government must implement coroner's report recommendation

Page A5 Benjamin Shingler, Telegraph-Journal, September 17, 2010

To read original article in the Telegraph Journal click here

BATHURST - Isabelle Hains says more remains to be done to ensure New Brunswick's students are safe when travelling the province's roads on school trips.

The Bathurst mother, who has become an advocate for stronger school transportation regulations since losing her son Daniel in a tragic van crash two years ago, wants the next provincial government to require that drivers of vehicles for school extra-curricular activities have a Class 2 driver's licence.

Making the licence mandatory was among the recommendations included in the coroner's report into the 2008 collision, which killed seven members of the Bathurst High School basketball team and the coach's wife.

A Class 2 licence is required to operate a bus with a capacity of more than 24 passengers. Two other key recommendations from the report have already been introduced in New Brunswick, Hains said.

The Liberal government banned 15-passenger vans for school transportation, replacing them last year with minibuses. The province has also made winter tires mandatory on the vehicles. Making the Class 2 licence mandatory would complete the picture, Hains said.

"All three go hand in hand to get the safest results for our children," she said.

Hains said she wants the government elected Sept. 27 to introduce the change by the end of the current school year.

Education Minister Roland Haché, the Liberal candidate for Nigadoo-Chaleur, has previously stated the policy would be costly and impractical.

The previous Liberal government did, however, introduce a mandatory driver safety program, which is now required prior to transporting students to extracurricular activities.

The driver safety courses are free.

Hains said the training courses aren't enough to prepare drivers to handle the minibuses, which are officially known as multi-function activity buses.

As well, she disputes the argument that having professional drivers would be too expensive.

"I really feel that there is no cost that's too much for our drivers when we are talking about the safety of our children," she said.

Hains said she won't relent until the New Brunswick government makes the licence mandatory.

"I feel this is something I really need to do," she said.

"I feel if I don't get the end result, then I didn't do justice for the boys."

She is also planning to attend a conference later this month in Halifax, where transport ministers from across the country will gather for their annual meeting.

Hains is supporting a private member's bill introduced by Acadie-Bathurst's New Democrat MP Yvon Godin. The bill calls for the prohibition of 15 passenger vans across the country for student transportation.

The federal government announced earlier this year it will review the safety standard applicable to 15-passenger vans, with the intent to increase awareness of passenger safety among school board authorities.

The review will include consultation with provincial and territorial governments, an assessment of the safety and stability of 15-passenger and multi-function activity buses, and brake testing and vehicle rollover threshold testing.

Despite their dismal safety record, the vans are a common mode of transportation for school boards, sports teams and daycare centres.

In recent years, the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued numerous safety warnings about the vans, which are now banned for the transporting of children in 43 American states. The United States government also prohibits the sale of the vans to schools and daycares.

Only three provinces in Canada, including New Brunswick, have banned the use of 15-passenger vans for student transportation. Nova Scotia stopped using the vehicles in 1986 after two accidents resulted in the deaths of students. Quebec took the initiative in the summer of 2008 and will not allow 15-passenger vans to be used by schools.

To read original article in the Telegraph Journal click here