Thursday, October 25, 2012 Nanaimo mom pushes for ban on 15-passenger vans

Stella Gurr and Isabelle Hains in
Fredericton, New Brunswick on October 19, 2012.

Stella Gurr's son, Michael, was killed in a rollover crash in such a vehicle in 2008

The third phase of Transport Canada's safety review of vans used for student transportation, released on Oct. 5, confirmed what Stella Gurr already knew: The number of deaths and injuries are greater in 15-passenger vans.

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Lobbying efforts of Gurr, of Nanaimo, who lost her 26-yearold son Michael when he was killed in a 15-passenger van rollover near Brandon, Man. in 2008 and Isabelle Hains of New Brunswick, whose son Daniel, 17, was one of seven killed in a 2008 Bathurst crash, helped lead to the safety review of 15-passenger vans by Transport Canada in 2010.

The review results were just one more piece of ammunition the mothers documented in One Death Too Many, which was presented at the annual Council of Ministries and Deputy Ministries of Transportation Conference in Fredericton on Oct. 17.

Included in the brief are a list of 10 safety concerns. Of greatest concern to Gurr is the fact manufacturers are not required to meet minimal safety standard requirements for roof crush resistance in 15-passenger vans because there is no minimal standard for their weight category.

"We recognize that accidents happen, we've never denied," said Gurr. "But that occupant compartment should provide a reasonable chance of survival and now we know there isn't (a reasonable chance of survival) in a 15-passenger van."

The Cowichan Valley school district banned the use of 15-passenger vans 21 days after Brian Murphy, a licensed vehicle inspector who worked as a school bus mechanic and driver with the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district, made a presentation warning them of the safety concerns in January 2010.

Donna Reimer, Nanaimo-Lady-mith school district spokes-woman, said 15-passenger vans are "occasionally rented" for student travel and the district is confident that using the vans are safe as the guidelines from the School Protection Program and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are followed.

Vancouver Island University has three of the vans in its vehicle fleet, but with the purchase of two 24-passenger busses this year, they hope to take one off the road, "but not because of safety concerns," said Wayne Hiles, facilities service manager. The Boys and Girls Club in Nanaimo use 15-passenger vans to transport children and "we're very much aware of the concerns," said Len Manuel, manager of facilities.

"It is still perfectly legal to use them and we take every precaution to make sure our kids are safe in the vans." 250-729-4245
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