Passenger safety on buses is a matter of great concern after the tragic Humboldt Broncos bus accident last April. Sixteen people were killed, and thirteen people were injured. Transport Canada is changing its seatbelt policies for highway buses to provide better protection for passengers. Since 1984, Transport Canada has maintained that school buses don’t need seatbelts but is now reviewing its policies regarding seat belts on school buses as well.
Transport Canada’s new seatbelt policies for medium and large highway buses, with a weight greater than 4,536 kg, take effect on September 1, 2020. Bus companies must install seatbelts on all new medium and large highway buses by then. Transport Canada set the effective date in 2020 to allow enough time for bus companies and manufacturers to make the changes. The seat belts, if worn by passengers, will reduce rollover injuries.
School buses don’t have seat belts. They sit high above the ground, so most crashes happen below the floor line. The seats are high-backed and placed closely together to protect children and cushion impacts. Transport Canada says that school buses are safe.
However, a 2010 Transport Canada report showed that school buses failed the ministry's own safety tests. The seats do not prevent injuries if the bus rolls over or is hit on the side. Children could be thrown from the bus. The 2010 Report became public in 2018 after a CBC investigation. That prompted Transport Canada to start a review of its school bus seatbelt policies. The ministry may require seat belts be installed on school buses in future. Bus companies may install seat belts now if the belts meet Transport Canada’s specifications.
Those involved in bus and school bus industries may want to consult a lawyer to better understand the implications these changes may have for their companies.