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Powell River school district stance on bus seat belts unchanged

POWELL RIVER, B.C. – The Powell River School District’s acting transportation manager’s stance on equipping school buses with seat belts hasn’t changed, despite Transport Minister Marc Garneau recently announcing the creation of a task force on the issue.

Shaun Garvey maintained that retrofitting Powell River school buses with belts would be both an expensive and problematic endeavour.

Garneau said the task force – made up of provinces, territories, and school bus manufacturers – will explore the possibility of putting seat belts in existing buses.

The minister added that while the federal government has the jurisdiction of mandating seat belts in school buses, it will be up to each province to retrofit them.

The concept of seat belts on school buses has been a hot-button issue after CBC’s The Fifth Estate reported that a Transport Canada report in 2010 showed that school buses without seat belts had failed safety tests.

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However, according to Canada Safety Council (CSC), school buses have an enviable safety record and are already one of the safest methods of transportation.

The CSC notes that it is 16 times safer than travelling in a family car per passenger/kilometre of travel, adding that Transport Canada has applied approximately 40 safety standards to the design and construction of school buses made in and imported into Canada.

Garvey agrees.

Contacted by the newsroom on Dec. 12, he said “the district’s position, for want of a better term, is that while we believe that seat belts would be of benefit relating to the potential to reducing injuries, in the event of any collisions involving school buses, there are significant practical perspectives that we have issues with.”

The newly announced task force hasn’t altered his view.

“For the most part, the position is unchanged,” he said on Wednesday morning.

“Obviously, we’re in favour of any actions that will be taken to improve student safety, however, we are concerned that, in potentially going with mandated seatbelts in school buses, it will be creating a whole range of other issues which, if not properly understood or prepared for, will cause some other problems that every school district will have to face. That could be a significant issue for us.”

According to Garvey, these problems include:
– the financial costs of retrofitting existing buses with three-point harness belts, which he said school buses are not designed to accommodate, and
– student behaviour issues, not the least of which is non-compliance in wearing seat belts.

“We’re concerned about putting in a measure which will be very difficult, if almost impossible, to actually measure, monitor, and manage on an ongoing basis,” Garvey said.

“For our drivers to actually enforce the wearing of seat belts will be very difficult because it’s a safety regulation that all drivers have to maintain relative to school buses as far as staying in their seats while the ignition is engaged.”

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