|Hon. Denis LeBel|
On January 12, 2008 seven young teenage boys from the Bathurst High School Basketball team and the coach’s wife were killed in a horrific highway collision between a 15-passenger van and a tractor-trailer. Some of the mothers, including Isabelle Hains, whose son Daniel (age 17) died in the tragedy, began to advocate for safer transportation of students participating in extra and co-curricular activities. In the fall of 2008, the mothers set up an information and advocacy website called VAN ANGELS ( www.vanangels.ca)
Meantime, on September 25, 2008, a young BC man, Michael Gurr (age 26) died in a single vehicle 15-passenger rollover outside of Brandon, Manitoba. His mother Stella Gurr, concerned with the safety issues surrounding 15-passenger vans began her own journey of research and inquiry.
The mothers were drawn together by the deaths of their sons and common beliefs. They combined their strength and knowledge with the determination to be proactive in educating themselves and the public on the dangers of 15-passenger vans in Canada. Together they channelled their grief, frustration, confusion and anger into a positive way to save other lives and to honour their boys’ memory.
As the years passed, Isabelle and Stella knew from their work that 15-passenger vans had been scrutinized and tested for safety issues and concerns for over 40 years worldwide. The “common thread” in thousands of injuries and deaths was the vehicle’s design; its high centre of gravity, large size and occupant capacity as well as the non-mandatory requirements to meet some minimum safety standards. The mothers were particularly concerned with the lack of reinforced side impact and roof crush protection, propensity to rollover, loss of control in emergency manoeuvres and weak regulatory guidelines and enforcement.
On May 27, 2010, Isabelle Hains, Stella Gurr, Melynda Jarratt, and two CUPE School Bus Drivers (Bryan Murphy from BC and Delalene Harris-Foran from NB) travelled to Ottawa to witness the introduction of Bill C-522 by New Brunswick NDP MP Yvon Godin (Acadie-Bathurst) in the House of Commons. If the Bill were passed, it would have made it an offence under the Criminal Code “to transport students in a motor vehicle with designated seating capacity of more than 10 and fewer than 17 persons unless the motor vehicle conforms to certain standards”. The intent was to prohibit the use of 15-passenger vans for student transportation plus limit the sale, transportation and inter-provincial shipment of 15-passenger vans configured to carry more than one passenger.
The Bill did not reach Second Reading, but, one month later, the then Minister of Transportation, John Baird, announced that TC would review the safety of vans used for student transportation. Also the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA) was tasked with developing a national approach.
In September, 2010, the Van Angels group went to Halifax, NS, to meet with former Minister of Transportation, Chuck Strahl, along with his Provincial andTerritorial counterparts at their annual conference. The Van Angels group requested the following:
1. To recognize Multi-Function Activity Buses (MFABs) as a sub-category of school buses.The group was assigned a liaison / contact and have tele-conferenced monthly since January, 2011.
2. for Provincial and Territorial Ministers to take the necessary steps to amend their regulations to ban the use of 15-passenger vans as a mode of transportation for youth. The ban would include students participating in extra- and co-curricular activities, day cares, pre-schools, youth clubs and organizations that are responsible for the provision of transportation services to the youth of Canada.
3. that crashworthiness be included in the Safety Review of vans used for student transportation.
4. to provide a liaison / contact person to facilitate communications between TC and the Van Angels group.
In August, 2011, the Van Angel group expressed their support for an amendment to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations that would establish a definition for a Multi-Function School Activity Bus (MFSAB).
On August 11, 2011, the group received a copy of the Internal Research Report PHASE I (Static Stability and Braking), on January 19, 2012, PHASE II (Dynamic Testing) and on October 5, 2012, PHASE III (Crashworthiness).
The Van Angel group have requested a meeting with the current Minister of Transportation, Hon. Denis Lebel, and his Provincial and Territorial counterparts at their next Council of Ministers and Deputy Ministers responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety conference in Fredericton, NB, October, 2012. They asked that TC share the CCMTA’s task force findings and recommendations. The group also wanted to know what TC and the Provinces and Territories intended to do with this information. Also requested was a status update on the new definition for the CSA Multi-Function Activity Bus currently known as the D270-08.
- Transport Canada’s role is to develop, set and enforce safety regulations and standards required for new vehicles sold in Canada and imported vehicles (new and used), and regulate Federal jurisdiction motor carriers. TC tests and promotes safety technologies and introduces safety management systems as a reliable cost effective way to present and manage safety risk in all modes of transportation.SAFETY CONCERNS
- the Provincial and Territorial governments have jurisdiction over the operation and maintenance of motor vehicles and are responsible for driver and motor vehicle regulations and enforcement.
15 passenger vans were originally developed as a cargo van. Auto manufacturers chose to install seats and windows in order to increase sales to consumers as an alternative to a bus for small group transportation (schools, sport teams, daycares, universities, churches, seniors, shuttle services, musicians, agricultural and forestry workers etc). These cargo vans were intended to carry freight on the floor and were never redesigned by automotive engineers to the higher safety standards required when transformed into a passenger-carrying vehicle.
- The van’s inherent high centre of gravity was further increased with seats, passengers and luggage, making them more unstable and difficult to handle at high speeds and in certain real-world handling manoeuvres.
- they lack reinforced sides and roof. Currently manufacturers are not even required to meet minimal safety standard requirements for roof crush resistance.
- the rear doors lack an unobstructed emergency exit as they are typically blocked by the back seat and / or cargo.
- when compromised in a collision or rollover, the oversized side and rear windows of the 15-passenger van can create a large ejection portal big enough for human adult body.
- standard single rear wheel tires are not as reliable as dual in a rear tire blow-out scenario and instability problems.
- the extended back end or large storage container on the back fender of 15-passenger vans add additional weight past the rear wheels affecting stability. Passenger configuration, seat layout and load capacity are additional factors affecting stability.
- due to their high-load carrying capacity tire pressure is critically important and under inflated rear tires can lead to tire failure and loss of vehicle control. Front and rear tire pressures are different and the public needs to be made more aware of the manufacturers’ recommendations. Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) are not a mandatory manufacturing requirement on new vehicles sold in Canada.
- the 15-passenger vans’ weight category, more than 2722 kg but less than 4536 kg, leaves them consistently below current minimum CMVSS upgrades that would apply to regular passenger vehicles.
- in the CMVSS, ‘bus’ means a vehicle having a seating capacity of more than 10 occupants. There are no separate classifications or definitions for the various types of buses except a yellow school bus. Vehicles included in this mass category vary in their minimum safety standard requirements and it is confusing.
- safe student and small group transportation need a Canada wide approach to be effective and increase public awareness.
The Van Angels group is aware that Transport Canada is currently addressing some of the concerns associated with 15-passenger van safety issues, safety standards and regulations.
- there are ongoing studies and investigations of front air bag deployment involving vehicles built to comply with the current CMVSS #208/Occupant Crash Protection. They involve moderately severe vehicle-to-vehicle side impact, vehicle to pole side impact, vehicle rollover collisions with side air bags or side curtain deployment and frontal collisions involving fully restrained rear seat occupants.
- there is crashworthiness research directed towards improving frontal and side impact protection for children and adults with the use of advanced anthropomorphic test devices (ATD).
- TC continues to actively support regulatory harmonization with the US and globally through research programs and international working committees.
- there has been a major upgrade to the Motor Vehicle Test Centre in Blainsville, QC that will facilitate and expand TC testing capabilities and techniques.
- reviews of the potential benefits of Collision Mitigation Systems (CMS) are being conducted through data collection and testing.
- advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), including ESC are being tested for performance and limitations. CMVSS #126/Electronic Stability Control Systems will be mandatory on all light duty vehicles (GVWR less than 4536 kg) manufactured for Canada in or after September 1, 2011.
- CMVSS #216/Roof Crush Resistance is optional to auto manufacturers producing vehicles over the GVWR of 2722kg which includes the 15-passenger van. The current Technical Standard of 1.5 X GVWR will expire on January 1, 2014, at which time a phase-in period will begin with an increase from 1.5 to 3.0 X GVWR for all vehicles less than 2722 kg. It will only become mandatory on January 1, 2016, and vehicles weighing more than 2722 kg but less than 4536 kg will only increase to 1.5 X GVWR. This change will once again put the 15-passenger van’s roof crush resistance lower than it is for a regular passenger car.
- in the past the recording of 15-passenger van VINs has been inconsistent thus affecting the outcome of statistical accuracy, results and effective recalls. CMVSS #115/VIN requires vehicles manufactured within a 60-year period and having a model year of 1980 or later must not be identical. It is the responsibility of the Provinces and Territories to regulate and enforce accurate collection of VINs in their vehicle registration database.
- the CCMTA has been tasked by TC to develop a national approach to 15-passenger van safety.
The Van Angel group realizes that motor vehicle accidents happen but still firmly believe that all motor vehicles should be built with occupant protection as a priority with the first line of defence being structural integrity.
- Occupant death and injury in 15-passenger van collisions and rollovers are related to the severity of the incident.
- the severity of the collision or rollover is directly related to the 15-passenger van’s deformation and the structure’s ability to absorb crash energy while maintaining a survivable occupant compartment.
- the 15-passenger van occupant compartment’s integrity is fundamental to the safety and protection to the occupants in collisions and rollovers.
Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) are not an assurance that a vehicle meets the most available and up to date safer designs and specifications. Motor vehicle manufacturers are only required by law to meet minimum safety standards.
The 20 to 30 year time spent between prototype, feasibility and regulations needs to be addressed. Governments, traffic safety professionals, auto
manufacturers and stakeholders must act as a continuing catalyst in reducing these long time gaps.
A common Federal, Provincial and Territorial approach is an important key to raising public awareness and providing stricter policies, guidelines and enforcement.
The Van Angels group formally recognizes Transport Canada’s serious response to their safety concerns with 15-passenger vans in Canada.
We fully acknowledge the amount of time, effort and expense committed to fulfill the our concerns and requests.
The road to improvements in safe transportation of students and small groups needs to be kept in the forefront of Federal, Provincial and Territorial regulators and for them to continue to work together.
Three provinces, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec have already taken the initiative to ban 15-passenger vans from transporting students to and from co- and extra-curricular activities. The provinces have the responsibility and the power to make changes that will protect Canadians and save lives.
Our Van Angels group will continue to advocate for the safety of all Canadians and to educate the public through whatever means are at our disposal: safe transportation in Canada is an ongoing process and as stakeholders in this process, our journey does not end today.
Citizens have the right to demand the best and safest mode of transportation for their loved ones and to expect nothing less.