Monday, October 29, 2012

Nanaimo Daily News: Despite safety concerns, many groups still comfortable using 15-passenger vans

Nanaimo mother lost son in crash, continues to speak out.
Photo by Krista Bryce/Daily News.


Krista Bryce, Daily News
Published: Monday, October 29, 2012

Nanaimo schools, day cares, university and community groups continue their use 15-passenger vans, though three provinces and 43 U.S. states have banned their use for student transportation and small-group travel.

To read original article go to Nanaimo Daily News online

Stella Gurr of Nanaimo, who lost her 26-year-old son Michael when he was killed in a 15-passenger van rollover in 2008, and Isabelle Hains of New Brunswick, whose son Daniel, 17, was one of seven killed in the 2008 Bathurst crash, have been lobbying the government for four years as part of the Van Angels advocacy group to ban the use of the vans for student and small-group transportation across Canada.

Three documents, which include the two-year Transport Canada safety review of vans used for student transportation, the 2012 Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators recommendations for a national approach to the safe transport of students and small groups, and a 15-page brief titled One Death Too Many, created by the Van Angels advocacy group, were presented at the annual Council of Ministers and Deputy Ministers of Transportation in Fredericton on Oct. 17.

Gurr and Hains met privately with the federal Minister of Transport Denis LeBel, federal deputy minister and other senior staff members of Transport Canada immediately after the conference and left "with hope that student and small group transportation in Canada will be undergoing some positive changes in the near future," said Gurr. "It's in the hands of the provinces now and they have the power to make changes that will protect Canadians and save lives."

In Canada, only three provinces - Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec - prohibit 15-seat vans for student travel.

Otherwise the vans remain in widespread use by school districts in other provinces, including Nanaimo-Ladysmith. They're also used by Vancouver Island University, day cares, Boys and Girls Clubs, and sport and community groups.

The van fills a niche in the transportation market for groups larger than eight and fewer than 16. But they are also less expensive than a multi-functional activity bus and cheaper to rent, which is why so many groups use them and continue to purchase them.

The Nanaimo school district, VIU, the Boys and Girls Club in Nanaimo all state they strictly maintain their 15-passenger fleets to the highest standards, following all the proper mechanical inspections, government safety recommendations and they provide licensed drivers.

Transport Canada also provides nine key points to consider before using or buying 12 or 15-passenger vans on their website.

But the lack of knowledge around the van's design and safety standard requirements for vehicles in their weight class by the general public and groups using these vans are the real issues, according to Gurr.

Gurr compares it to seat belt legislation in Canada, which is also in the hands of the provinces. Initially, seat belt use was not compulsory.

Ontario was the first province to pass a law that required vehicle occupants to wear seat belts, a law that came into effect on Jan. 1, 1976. It took a further 15 years before all provinces and territories passed laws requiring seat belt use.

"You have to play the game," said Gurr, which is what she and Hains have done privately, behind closed doors, for two years in monthly teleconferences with senior officials from Transport Canada.

"You can't just go in and demand something changes. To get things done right you have to put in the time."

The third phase of Transport Canada's safety review, which was released on Oct. 5, confirmed what Gurr said she already knew. The number of deaths and injuries are greater in 15-passenger vans than multi-functional school buses.

"It confirmed our beliefs that we have held from day one that those vehicles should not be on Canadian roads," said Gurr.

"They are a cargo van and were never designed to carry passengers."

Manufacturers are not required to meet minimal safety standard requirements for roof crush resistance in vehicles more than 2,722 kilograms and under 4,536 kg. And because the vans are three times more likely to roll over than any other vehicle in an accident, "it's not safe, if you're in a tin can," said Gurr.

The concerns documented in One Life Too Many can be found at

In 2009, a coroner's inquest into the 2008 Bathurst accident recommended 15-passenger vans be banned for student travel all across Canada.

In the U.S., the federal government has made it illegal to sell 15-passenger vans to schools and day cares, and more than 43 states now ban their use by schools.

VIU has four 15-passenger vans, one more than originally reported to the Daily News earlier this week, and one of the vans was purchased this spring, along with two 24-passenger buses.

In his 35 years at the university Darrel Mansbridge, executive director of student services, said the 15-passengers vans have had a clean record. They knew of the Bathurst tragedy, investigated what other institutions were doing and looked at alternatives before they purchased it, "and we feel (the 15 passenger van) is the right tool for the job."

However, in light on the new safety review "the wheels have been set in motion to review new information and talk about what the future holds," said Mansbridge.

The two women noted that while the Transport Canada test results are crucial to their case, in the end it is now up to the provinces and territories to decide on their own whether they will join New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Quebec in outlawing these 15-passenger vans for passenger use.

NDP MP for Nanaimo-Cowichan, Jean Crowder, confirms the B.C. Ministry of Transportation has the right to regulate how transportation equipment is used and could determine that 15-passenger vans are not suitable transportation vehicles for students or passengers.

"It's easier to deal with a provincial regulation in how these vans get used in the short term, and there are already models out there of provincial laws that are already in place," said Crowder.

"I don't understand why we don't move faster on things," she said.

For now, Gurr hopes some organizations, if not all, make their own educated decision to ban the vans, as the Cowichan Valley school district did in January 2010, stating "student safety" is their top priority. 250-729-4245