The idea of seatbelt on a school bus sounds like a “no-brainer” but it is not a straight forward as one may think.
Director of Operations Trevor Bettcher provided information on this topic to the School District No. 83 (North Okanagan-Shuswap) Board of Education on Tuesday at Pleasant Valley Secondary School in Armstrong.
“There has been a lot in the media lately about seatbelt on buses because of some very horrific collisions. You look at these on the news and it is very impactful.”
Bettcher explained that there is no mandate from Transport Canada for buses to have seatbelt. “School buses are not regular passenger vehicles, they have some very unique features. The body is like a cage and the incorporated compartmentalization works very well in front and rear impacts.”
He said recently Transport Canada has recognized that seatbelt would improve safety in event of a rollover or severe side impact.
He told the Board that the Federal Transportation Minister has made a commitment to a task force and pilot project to evaluate what mandatory seatbelt on school buses would look like. He noted that seatbelts in school buses would have operational implications, major costs to retrofit the buses, and ongoing operational costs.
“Hopefully Transport Canada initiatives will influence the provincial government to provide funding if and when this happens.”
He added some of the operational implications, which will hopefully be addressed by any pilot program, would include:
- BC Legislation puts the responsibility of students wearing their seatbelts and having them adjusted properly on the driver for all passengers under the age of 16 (the majority of our passengers).
- Under BC Legislation the driver can not leave the drivers seat unless they are off the travelled portion of the highway. SD83 has 931 daily bus stops on the traveled portion of the highway.
- Increased loading times requiring earlier pick up times and later drop off times.
- Seat belts would need to be sanitized weekly and inspected on daily safety pre-trip inspections before the start of day.
- Conflicting information on capacity implications. Three seatbelts to a bus seat means each student has to fit into a 13” space. Two seatbelts to a bus seat means that we can transport fewer students.
- Ongoing cost for maintenance and repair.
Bettcher also did a cost analysis and said that adding three-point belts to new school buses (from Western Canada Bus factory) would add $5,500 to $6,500 to each bus, as they have already designed their seats to have seatbelts or not.
Retrofitting 3-Point Belts to the district’s newer buses (again from Western Canada Bus) would be approximately $8,000 for parts and $2,000 for labour per bus.
“Western Canada Bus is the only BC school bus supplier that is able to certify retrofits, because they started preparing their bus frames for seatbelts as early as their 2014 model year (which would include 24 of the district’s 52 buses). No matter what company you go through, the Original Equipment Manufacturer has to sign off.”
He added the district’s Thomas buses would probably cost $35,000 dollars but feels it would be very difficult to get an engineer to sign off on the retrofit.
He wrapped up his presentation by saying that, to date, no BC School Districts have implemented seatbelt on school buses.
“We’ve heard a lot of talk about this. Thanks for the interesting and insightful perspective,” said Vice Chair Quentin Bruns to Bettcher.