New Brunswick

Driver fatigue factor in deadly Bathurst crash: Transport Canada report

Driver fatigue was a major factor in a collision in northern New Brunswick that killed seven high school basketball players and a local teacher, according to a report by Transport Canada.

Driver fatigue was a major factor in a collision in northern New Brunswick that killed seven high school basketball players and a local teacher, according to a report by Transport Canada.

A 15-seat 1997 Ford Econoline F350 Club Wagon carrying the members of the Bathurst High School basketball team struck a tractor-trailer on Highway 8 on Jan. 12 while driving in winter conditions on a return trip from a night game in Moncton.

Eight of the 12 people in the vehicle died.

A report released by Transport Canada on Tuesday night said the driver of the van, team coach Wayne Lord, "was approaching 16 hours of on-duty activity" when the crash occurred.

"The last three hours of driving took place as weather and driving conditions steadily deteriorated — increasing the workload for the driver," the report states.

The van was considered a commercial vehicle, the report says. Under provincial and federal regulations, drivers of commercial vehicles cannot be behind the wheel for more than 13 hours in a 24-hour period, and cannot be on duty for more than 14 hours.

"The driver did not exceed the maximum permitted driving time, having driven just over six hours," states the report. "He was in violation of the hours of service limits … because he was driving almost two hours after he had reached the limit set for accumulated on-duty time."

The report also notes that the crash occurred after midnight, "which would be when most people would be asleep if they worked a normal day."

Driver error is also cited as a "major contributing factor" in the report.

Lord overcorrected to the left when the van hit the right shoulder of the road, causing the van to move into the path of the tractor-trailer, says the report, which was prepared for Transport Canada by Frank Wilson of the University of New Brunswick.

Van had worn tires, faulty brakes

The RCMP also released a report by a collision reconstructionist on Tuesday that indicated the van in the crash would not have passed a provincial motor vehicle inspection in its pre-collision condition.

The van had worn tires, faulty brakes and a rusting body at the time of the accident.

The Transport Canada report also pointed to the tires of the vehicle, calling them the "most critical maintenance issue." The all-season tires were misaligned, worn and improperly inflated, according to the report.

The vehicle would have handled better in the snow and slush if it had "properly inflated and aligned winter tires that had adequate tread depths," the report said.

The police report also indicated that six of the eight victims had not been wearing seatbelts at the time of the crash and that the van was going well below the 100 km/h speed limit on the icy and slushy road.

The van was owned by Bathurst Van Inc. and was only used by Bathurst High School.

Schools and school districts in New Brunswick cannot own vehicles under the Education Act and incorporated, non-profit bodies are often established so vehicles can be purchased and used for school activities.

Regulations not followed

The Transport Canada report indicates the company that operated the vehicle failed to maintain vehicle inspection reports, violated regulations for the number of hours a driver can work while operating a commercial vehicle, did not conduct pre-trip inspections and did not maintain updated trip logs.

A log had not been filled out for the vehicle in more than nine months, according to the report, and even at that time it had been improperly filled out.

"That was a basketball coach who was doing what he thought best for his students to get them to that game, yet he was given a vehicle to drive that really was not in very good shape and no instructions as to when to get off the road under those weather conditions," Wilson said. "So I think the driver was in a very unfortunate situation."

Officials with the Public Safety Department have said New Brunswick's registrar of motor vehicles will review the motor vehicle inspection system in light of the report's findings.

The Education Department is also reviewing its transportation guidelines and is expected to issue recommendations on how to minimize the risk of travel by students to extracurricular activities within the next few weeks.

The Bathurst crash prompted the New Brunswick government to pull all 15-passenger vans used to transport students to school off the road.

Wilson said he did not find that the particular model of vehicle was an issue in the accident.

In 2002, a study by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the stability of 15-passenger vans decreases when they are fully loaded.

The vans have been banned for school use in several jurisdictions in Canada and the United States.

Wilson suggested that vehicle conditions and establishing weather protocols should be examined by the provincial government's working group.

With files from the Canadian Press