Abbotsford Bus Crash Highlights Seat Belt Debate

An SUV and a shuttle bus collided in Abbotsford Saturday afternoon, injuring all 21 bus passengers and sending two to hospital with serious neck and spinal injuries.
(Vancouver Sun, October 17, 2010)

Each day millions of people use buses to get from one point to another.  Fortunately, accidents involving buses tend to be relatively uncommon, however, when they occur, the results may be catastrophic.

In British Columbia, with few exceptions, cars are required to have seat belts and the driver and all passengers are required to wear them.  Bus passengers, however, are not required to use seat belts unless they are available, which usually, they are not.  School buses receive special treatment, not only are manufacturers not required to install seat belts, but even if installed, children do not have to wear them.

Studies have consistently shown that seat belts reduce injuries and deaths.  Why then are their installation and use on buses not required?

There is no one explanation for the lack of seat belts on buses.  Some experts state that because buses are large they can better withstand collisions.  Others point to additional safety precautions taken on buses, such as high padded seats and small windows. Some suggest that seat belts hinder evacuation of a bus in an emergency, such as a crash into a lake.

When it comes to school buses, some studies suggest that, as students may fail to properly wear their seat belts, they could do more harm than good in a non-catastrophic crash or sudden stop.  Transport Canada states that seat belts would only prevent serious injury in a small number of school bus accidents. In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that “there is insufficient reason for a federal mandate for seat belts on large school buses.’’

To date our courts have not held bus manufacturers or operators accountable for injuries resulting from the lack of seat belts.  The courts are reluctant to do so given the differing opinions regarding their benefit on buses.

That being said, change may be on the horizon. Currently, proposals are being made in the United States to require the installation and use of seat belts on all commercial buses.  Also, unlike Canada, the United States requires school buses weighing less than 10,000 pounds to have seat belts. Some US jurisdictions require all school buses to have seat belts, yet the use of them is left to the student.  A number of other American jurisdictions go even further and require that all children wear seat belts.  In Canada, as reported by Transport Canada, only Etobicoke, Ontario requires seat belts in all buses.

The requirement for seat belts in buses is still being widely debated.  Given the Abbotsford bus crash and the resulting serious injuries, clearly this topic requires more study.

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One Response to “Abbotsford Bus Crash Highlights Seat Belt Debate”

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