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EDITORIAL – Retired Valley Transit Maintenance Manager – Seatbelts on Canadian School Buses

Harrison – Gary Lillico is a Retired Transit Maintenance Manager who resides in Harrison Hot Springs. Mr. Lillico sent an email to Minister of Transportation the Honourable  Omar Algrhabra about seatbelts on School Buses.:

Dear Minister Alghabra, 
I’m writing in regard to the completion of the seatbelts on Canadian school buses pilot project.
I would like to know when you will announce the results and the introduction of a new law to have seatbelts mandatory on all new school buses entering service in the future?
Almost 3 years have passed since former Minister of Transportation the Honourable Marc Garneau ordered a review of the issue in October of 2018.The findings of this review in January of 2019 had the former Minister Garneau saying the day before his press conference that “ we are ready for this and will act quickly! “ Expecting a announcement that Canada would finally start catching up with the majority of countries around the word that have such laws was far from obtained.Unfortunately “ready and quick “ became the announcement of a task force to study this. This task force took exactly one year! There findings warranted recommending  a pilot project with select cities across Canada beginning last September 2020 and now concluding as of the close of this school year.
Over the course of these nearly three years I have petitioned and lobbied for Canada and the provinces to make this law. While each province has the authority to do as they please with this issue they have all fallen silent until you reveal a decision! I have had a private members bill introduced in the BC legislature in November of 2019. I attended as the guest of my MLA. We did fourteen interviews and one press conference that day. The media and positive feedback from all parties that day in Victoria showed how much this is a non partisan issue and it’s great concern. Where such members bills end up, you and I well know. Sadly that’s politics! However you can choose to ignore the inevitable or be the leader to step up and give this wonderful country what it needs to hear!

The Safety Council of Canada an independent identity fails to respond to my request to ask what they have done on this. They quote the old stale outdated line from Transport Canada that “ school buses are the safest form of transportation for children travelling to school. “ They too have stated they are waiting on your results. So much for independent study!Yes, it is true school buses are safe, but only until they are involved in one of many accident scenarios such as being T-boned, rear ended, front impacted or rolled. This is exactly where seatbelts save  lives and prevent injuries!
The CBC Fifth Estate television show first broke this story open following their reveal of a Transport Canada study completed in 2010 dealing with this issue. They also won an award for Best Investigative Story of the Year! The study came as a result of Jennifer Noble’s death in 2008 in Rimbey, Alberta. Sadly the report was buried for some ten years! The head tester of this study was left to say openly on television that seatbelts “ would be a good first step “ in providing additional protection to our children.Jennifer Noble was ejected from the impact of a tandem gravel truck rear ending her stopped bus in foggy conditions. Others suffered serious injuries and even more will undoubtedly have mental trauma for the remainder of their lives! As do Jennifer’s parents and specifically her mother Donna Noble who attended while on duty as a firefighter the accident scene of her daughter’s death!Mrs. Noble now trains firefighters and of course is a strong advocate for installing seatbelts on all school buses. In Ottawa you have a Fire Chief emergency first aid extraction trainer openly calling for seatbelts!
Why are all these experts that I have interviewed or just spoken too all endorsing seatbelts?Besides the fact that they can reduce or prevent many of the thousands of reported and unreported injuries ever year, they also save lives. Of course school buses are exempt from seatbelts laws in Canada, that makes sense, right? Seriously?
Let’s  now deal with that wild scenario that the few critics left like to present.The scenario where a school bus crashes, burst into flames or rolls down a hill into a lake and the driver must cut each individual student free before escaping. Much like the government’s advice in the vaccine shots for Covid 19 the extremely rare reaction is far outweighed by the benefits of having a shot! See that, having seatbelts far outweighs the rare occasion where they are of detriment!First every seatbelt does not jam on impact during collisions. In fact there is no change in the effort to release a seatbelt no matter which way you hang.Secondly as first responder experts state, if a student is dead or injured as a result of being violently  thrown out of their seat to the ceiling, across the bus, thrown forward or back from not sitting correctly, they will have a much greater chance to escape if seatbelts are worn!
Let’s talk technology available and already being used around the world. If you really want safe school buses you will not only mandate to law seatbelts, you will include each bus be equipped with engine and coach fire suppression equipment, traction control, emergency braking systems and seatbelt monitoring units to name a few. The technology available far exceeds what ancient laws Canada currently has for safety on school buses.
Let’s talk the Humboldt hockey bus accident. Horrific is an understatement! No one can understand the life time impact on the survivors, their families, first responders, emergency room health professionals etc… etc…Minister Garneau did his review and now all new motor coach buses coming into service must be equipped  with seatbelts! Why, well they travel at highway speeds.The minister fell short by excluding school buses???You realize of course that hundreds of thousands of school buses across Canada drive on highways everyday!Minister can you tell me that the life of two Alberta students killed , Jennifer Noble 17, in 2008 and  Maisie Watkinson 15,  10 years later in eerily similar accidents are not tragic enough to put seatbelts on school buses. We’ll never know if it would have prevented death but it most surely would have considerably raised the odds. Don’t you think?
Technology far exceeds the primitive lap belts of the past! Your task force has heard from people representing all aspects of this issue. You and I know the strong need for proper protection of the most important product Canada transports, children!
My roll in this has been to spearhead a petition calling for seatbelts on all a Canadian school buses. I have spoken to and been interviewed here in BC and across the country via all forms of media.   MP Rachel Harder sponsored me with a Parliament of Canada official petition, then questioned Minister Garneau in the House of Commons. The answer was of little content.  Currently my petition numbers exceed 143,000 signatures! Change. Org tells me that crossing the threshold of 150,000 will make this one of their top petition preformers!Why? It’s just blatantly obvious on the common sense level but the technology available and science of it  blows any criticism out of the water.
Minister I am not claiming all children in the future will be bulletproof with seatbelts but only that with the most updated technology available, technology that is already in use,  we will have done our due diligence in supplying the best and most current forms of protection available! Our children deserve this!
We lag so far behind the rest of the world on this issue!  Now it’s time for you to step up and educate our provinces, Transport Canada and The Safety Council of Canada by mandating seatbelts into law for all new school buses coming in to service for the entire country. This is not a province by province issue! Child welfare and safety does not stop at provincial borders!
Some schools can no longer wait for such a slow but obvious and logical outcome! My district has put at least 4 new buses with seatbelts into service this past year and now all replacement buses will always include seatbelts! It’s the future and you can make it happen now!
One final thought. Why must it always be a tragedy before things that have been kicked around for years finally get action taken? Or in this case two tragedies. Columbia Ice Fields tours now have seatbelts in there sightseeing vehicles! Why, because even at slow speeds, rollovers without seatbelts are death traps!
So again minister, I would like to know when you will make the announcement that you have finally put value on our children’s lives and we’ll being. The children for who our future of Canada depends on and deserve nothing less!
With much anticipation Minister , I wait!

Gary Lillico 
Retired Transit Maintenance Manager
Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia, Canada

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