Checks and balances on power is one of the imperatives to successful democracies.
The Fifth Estate on CBC recently aired an investigative story on school bus safety. Based on the 1984 Transport Canada crash tests, seat belts on school buses were deemed unnecessary for safety and, in fact, seat belts may put students at greater risk.
The Canada Safety Council (CSC), an independent body committed to safety, also stood behind these findings.
For 40 years we’ve been told seat belts save lives. And most of us buckle up faithfully believing it is safer to remain in our seats rather than being thrown out or becoming a projectile harming other passengers.
Yet Transport Canada, political parties of all stripes and CSC hold to the 1984 study when it comes to seat belts on school buses.
Those 1984 crash tests only tested head-on collisions. The high, padded seat backs were successful in protecting students propelled forward.
Rollovers and side-impact crashes were never tested. Anybody understanding basic physics knows an object is not propelled forward in either rollovers or side-impact collisions.
In their investigation, the Fifth Estate learned two critical facts. First, 34 years ago, Transport Canada planned to mandate seat belts on school buses.
They withdrew this safety requirement after lobbying from bus manufacturers and school boards. Today I doubt any school board trustee is aware of this history but they are very aware that provincial governments don’t provide adequate funding for busing.
Adding seat belts would increase the cost of a bus by $10,000 to $12,000.
The cost-benefit analysis was whether a few student deaths or injuries would be worth the extra cost. The government of the day and subsequent governments sided with the money, or it’s just stayed under the radar until now.
However, the more than two dozen parents who have lost their children in school bus accidents and the thousands who have had unnecessary injuries would strongly disagree.
The second fact uncovered by the Fifth Estate was test results from a 2010 crash test study by Transport Canada that were never made public.
These tests included all forms of collisions, and, of course, the conclusions found high seat backs alone were not adequate to prevent serious injury or death in a rollover or side-impact collision.
Transport Canada is charged with protecting children on school buses.
School boards who lobbied against seat belts had an obligation to protect children.
The independent safety body, CSC, accepted the 1984 crash test results without due diligence.
Politicians and/or bureaucrats who shelved the 2010 crash test results acted without conscience. All miserably failed their individual mandates to protect children.
In this story, the media became the only effective check and balance. Now it rests with the public. Election season is upon us.
We can let the politicians dictate the agenda—immigration and government debt—or we can challenge them on life and death concerns, “If elected, will you mandate three-point lap and shoulder belts on school buses?”