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Safer design could make bus crashes like Jasper National Park rollover less deadly, expert says

A road safety expert says that adding federal regulations could help limit bus crashes like the deadly rollover in Jasper National Park on Saturday that killed three people and injured two dozen others.

Other jurisdictions enforce safer bus design, expert says

Three people died and two dozen were injured in a bus crash in the Columbia Icefield area of Jasper National Park in Alberta on Saturday. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

More comprehensive federal regulations could help reduce the dangers of bus crashes like the deadly rollover in Jasper National Park on Saturday that killed three people and injured two dozen others, says a road safety expert.

What caused the rollover of the big-wheeled, off-road tourist bus remains under investigation by RCMP, and spokesperson Cpl. Deanna Fontaine said Tuesday it could be months before collision reconstructionists can finish their work and release a report on what happened.

Heavy machinery has been brought in to remove the bus from the crash site near the Columbia Icefield so the wreckage can be further examined.

The rollover marks the latest high-profile fatal bus crash in Canada, said Neil Arason, author of  No Accident: Eliminating Injury and Death on Canadian Roads.

Arason said bus regulations fall under the purview of the federal government, and it's "baffling" that previous deadly crashes — such as the the Humboldt Broncos hockey team crash in 2018, double-decker bus crashes in Ottawa in 2013 and 2019, and the Bamfield bus crash on Vancouver Island in 2019 — haven't led to changes.

"This is yet again a scenario where a bus crashes and our crashworthiness standards in Canada clearly are not to par," he said. "People are ejected from these buses and we know that ejection often leads to fatality."

Some of the passengers on the tourist bus are thought to have been ejected when it rolled off the rough, rocky road onto the Athabasca Glacier. Pursuit, the tour operator, has said the buses are off-road vehicles and that seatbelts are not required. 

Arason said seatbelts, along with soft interior surfaces and laminated glass windows are all features that could be added as passive safety features that can reduce the risk of ejection, injury and death.

"These things have happened for countless numbers of years," he said of such crashes. "And they'll continue to happen. Another way to look at it is the cause of the injuries, and how can we design buses so they reduce injuries and reduce likelihood substantially of a fatality."

Three people died and two dozen were injured in a bus crash in the Columbia Icefield area of Jasper National Park in Alberta on Saturday. (CBC)

Dave McKenna, president of the Banff Jasper Collection by Pursuit, has said the company will implement any changes that might be part of recommendations for things like seatbelts.

Arason noted that a House of Commons committee report in June 2019 did make recommendations related to driver training, passive safety and crashworthiness.

"None of those recommendations have been actioned in the last year, so there's been no movement," he said.

In the event of an aviation, rail or marine crash, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada has the authority to investigate. That's not the case with bus crashes.

"There's just many ways we seem to have become habituated to the road safety issue, including bus crashes," Arason said. "In aviation, marine, we just don't accept this level of human tragedy."

Arason said Europe and Australia have long had better bus safety regulations.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Transport Canada said that while its collision investigators are offering support to the RCMP, the sightseeing bus does not fall under its regulations.

"As the vehicle involved in this tragic event was manufactured and operated solely in the province of Alberta, it is not subject to Transport Canada federal safety requirements," the email said.

The spokesperson said recent updates to the department's safety regulations included making seatbelts mandatory in new motor coaches as of July 2018. 

Jasper RCMP have confirmed that the victims of Saturday's crash were a 28-year-old woman from Edmonton, a 24-year-old woman from Canoe Narrows, Sask., and a 58-year-old man from India. 

There were 27 people on the bus, according to an RCMP statement. Of those injured in the crash, the statement said four remained in critical but stable condition and one was in serious but stable condition as of late Sunday.

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