Monday, October 21, 2013

Mothers Dispute Transport Canada Findings: Say 15 Passenger Vans Still Unsafe

Left to right, holding the Boys in Red banner that was made for the May 27, 2010 Press conference at the National Press Gallery in Ottawa are Isabelle Hains, Bathurst, New Brunswick, Bryan Murphy, CUPE Nanaimo, British Columbia, Delalene Harris Foran, CUPE 1253 New Brunswick, and Stella Gurr, Nanaimo, BC.

ATTENTION: Postmedia Group/Newspapers

EDITORS: Please consider this article for your OP-ED section


by Isabelle Hains and Stella Gurr

As mothers who have been at the centre of the 15-passenger van debate, we must comment on the articles that appeared in some Postmedia newspapers this past week entitled: “ “Death Trap’ as safe as safe as other large vehicles,report says”, “ ‘Death Trap’ deemed safe”, “Report deems so called ‘death trap’ vans’ as safe as other large vehicles.”

Our sons Daniel Hains and Michael Gurr were killed in two separate 15-passenger van accidents in Bathurst, New Brunswick and Brandon, Manitoba in January and September, 2008. Our group, the VanAngels has been actively advocating for the safe transport of students and small groups since the untimely, preventable deaths of our beautiful Boys. Our story is recounted in the book "Driven: How the Bathurst Tragedy Ignited a Crusade for Change" by Richard Foot. Since our son’s deaths, we have educated ourselves about the danger of 15-passenger vans. In our opinion, the article's headline is misleading and readers may conclude that 15-passenger vans are safe. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Our VanAngels group has worked more than 5 ½ years to educate the public and expose the real facts about 15 passenger vans. The simple nugget of truth is that their inherent high centre of gravity, instability issues, difficult handling characteristics combined with unpredictable human behaviours is a disaster waiting to happen.

15-passenger vans are dangerous not only for the driver and the occupants of the van but also for other motorists on our Canadian roads. Even the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA), which was charged with leading the evaluation study into the 15- passenger van safety review by Transport Canada, agrees with us in their “Safety Guidelines for the use of 15-passenger vans: "…it is important to recognize that these vans handle differently than passenger vehicles especially when fully loaded with people or luggage/equipment…” and “Fifteen passenger vans are large vehicles and do not respond well to abrupt steering and require additional braking time”.

The only reason the 15-passenger van performed as well as and sometimes better than the two school buses and the CSA-D270 Multifunction Activity Bus (MFAB) is because they are larger and heavier than the 15-passenger van. This is not new information and we were not surprised because any vehicle with a high center of gravity tends to be more unstable than one with a lower center of gravity. Also a heavier vehicle will naturally have a longer stopping distance.

TC does not have the mandate to ban 15-passenger vans. It is a provincial jurisdictional power. TC has openly said that they will never say that one vehicle is safer than another except for yellow school buses.

As of September 2011,Transport Canada has made it mandatory that all new vehicles under the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 4,535 kg. require an Electronic Stability Control (ESC) system. We agree that ESC can be beneficial but the public needs to be aware that as of July 1st , 2008 there were approximately 27,674 registered 15-passenger vans of which 80% (21,989) do not have ESC. ESC does nothing to protect the occupants in a crash or rollover.

After the Bathurst tragedy in 2008 it was determined that policies and guidelines were in place but not followed. We are concerned that the CCMTA’s non-binding recommendations and guidelines lack substance for effective, meaningful change. These guideline and recommendations clearly put the onus and responsibility on the owners and drivers of 15-passenger vans. We are adamant that the use of just guidelines and recommendation will have no effect on driver behaviour if it is not backed up by regulation and enforcement. The unpredictability of human behaviour in emergency situations and the vans problematic design are a lethal combination on our roads.

The Multifunction Activity Bus used in some of the testing is a CSA-D270 MFAB or in the US is called a Multifunction School Activity Bus (MFSAB) and these vehicles are built to yellow school bus standards. There is a certification label on each bus and if it does not have CSA-D270 or MFSAB or School Bus (SB) written on the label than it is not built to a yellow school bus standard and it is a regular MFAB built to a lower standard the same as a 15-passenger van. Transport Canada and the provinces all agree that a yellow school bus is the safest mode of transport for students. Therefore why are schools putting children in 15-passenger vans and why is the government not promoting the CSA D-270 MFAB or the MFSAB?

Canadians need to know Transport Canada’s paired crash test showed that the adverse effects on the dummy occupants were greater in the 15-passenger van than the MFAB D-270. The report was quietly put on their TC website and received no media attention, that is, until your newspaper printed an article with a headline with the rather unfortunate use of the word "safe". We still believe regardless of how the vehicle is driven or maintained, this does nothing to change the inherit design flaws of these vehicles.

Isabelle Hains of Bathurst, New Brunswick and Stella Gurr of Nanaimo, British Columbia have been advocating for the safe transportation of students and small groups since the deaths of our sons, Daniel and Michael, in two separate 15 passenger van crashes in 2008. They are known as the VanAngels and their website can be found at
Van Angels