Mandatory seatbelts coming to buses

OTTAWA: Buckling up when entering a vehicle has become second nature to nearly everybody, and now that same mindset will be clicking in whenever boarding a bus.

Seatbelts will soon be a mandatory requirement on all newly built highway buses, according to a new directive from Transport Canada.

The federal government said in a news release the seatbelts will be mandatory only on medium and large highway buses starting September 1, 2020.

Seatbelts have a strong and proven record of saving lives, Transport Canada spokesman Pierre Manoni wrote in an e-mailed statement.

“Transport Canada proposed the requirements to install seatbelts in medium and large highway busses in 2017,” he said. “The department’s final regulation takes into account industry and stakeholder feedback.”

Manoni said while buses are safe, seatbelts can make them safer by helping to prevent passengers from being thrown from the vehicle during a crash.

Transport Canada defined medium and large buses as having a weight over 4,536 kilograms.

“We’ve all heard the message to buckle up over the years, and I think it’s time we brought this approach to highway buses too,” Minister of Transport Marc Garneau said. “By having seatbelts on highway buses, we can help reduce injuries in severe collisions, such as rollovers, and improve safety for everyone.”

A spotlight was shone on the issue of mandatory seatbelts on buses following an incident on April 6, which saw the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team collide with a semi-truck in rural Saskatchewan, killing 16 people and leaving 13 more injured.

A lawsuit filed by the parents of one of the players asked for a court order requiring all buses carrying sports teams in Saskatchewan to be equipped with seatbelts.

The department said small buses, with the exception of school buses, are already required to have lap and shoulder belts and the new rules won’t apply to school buses because they are already designed to protect children during a crash.

“School buses have an excellent safety record in Canada,” Manoni said. “This is because compartmentalization is designed to protect children in a crash, to minimize the force of impact and potential injury should a collision occur.”

School bus seats are made with high backs with padding on the front and back made from energy absorbing material and have strong anchorages and are spaced closely together to create compartments.

“In a collision, these special compartments would absorb some of the impact energy,” Manoni said. “And [it would] disperse the force of impact to the occupant’s entire body, reducing potential injury.”

He noted that if seatbelts were installed on school buses, they should be lap and shoulder belts.

“Research has indicated that lap-only belts may increase the risk of injury compared to existing compartmentalization features.”

For bus operators wishing to install seatbelts, Transport Canada’s new regulations specify technical requirements to help ensure the belts are installed correctly and do not compromise the safety provided by compartmentalization.