FREDERICTON, New Brunswick — In the wake of a fatal accident on a high school basketball trip in January, officials in late August unveiled recommendations to bolster school activity trip safety.
The recommendations were developed by a working group composed of members of the provincial departments of Education, Transportation, Public Safety, and Supply and Services and the Office of the Attorney General.
The group’s recommendations target vehicle type, training, vehicle inspections, use of winter tires and superintendents’ responsibility in ensuring student travel safety.
Although the Department of Education has existing guidelines on transporting students to extracurricular events, it currently has no legal authority to enforce them. The new recommendations strengthen those guidelines, and they are being considered by the government to become enforceable regulations.
“I look upon these recommendations very favorably, and my Cabinet colleagues and I will be acting in the near future to put them into place,” Education Minister Kelly Lamrock said. “All parents want to know that their children will be safe when they travel to events, particularly in light of the Bathurst tragedy.”
In that accident, a 15-passenger van was transporting members of the Bathurst High School basketball team on the morning of Jan. 12 when it collided with a tractor-trailer. Eight occupants of the van — seven youths and one adult — were killed.
Investigators said that at the time of the accident, visibility was poor because of a light freezing rain, and the roadway was covered in slush in some areas and was very slippery.
A collision reconstructionist determined that seat belt usage may have been a factor in the high number of fatalities. Six of the victims were unrestrained, and one was not wearing his seat belt properly.
Three of the benches in the van were ejected from the vehicle.
The mechanic who examined the van after the accident determined that it would not have passed a motor vehicle inspection in its pre-collision state. However, the van was inspected on Oct. 29, 2007 — less than three months before the crash — and passed.
One of the working group’s recommendations is to prohibit the use of 15-passenger vans and other vehicles with a passenger capacity of more than nine occupants — other than school buses, multi-functional activity buses or motorcoaches — for student activity trips.
The Canadian Standards Association recently released a new standard for the multi-functional activity bus (to read story, click here), which is intended to be a safer alternative to other vehicles, such as vans, that are not classified as a school bus but are still used for student trips.
In addition to specifying vehicle type, the New Brunswick working group’s recommendations would also:
require activity trip drivers to successfully complete a Department of Education-sanctioned training program,
require the results of vehicle inspections and service to be submitted to the Department of Education,
require winter tires from Oct. 15 to April 30 every year,
provide additional resources to ensure compliance with regulations and monitoring,
and clarify the role of district superintendents with respect to the safe transportation of students to extracurricular activities.
More details on the recommendations can be found in the news section of the News Brunswick government Website, www.gnb.ca. The release date is Aug. 26.