Nfld. & Labrador

Canada Safety Council calling for seat belts on coach buses after Humboldt Broncos crash

The council, a non-profit that advocates for safety measures, has campaigned for seat belts on buses for years.

Unfortunate to see conversation arise after tragedy, says CSC manager

The Humboldt Broncos bus crash, which killed 15 people and injured 14 others, has restarted debate on the use of seat belts on buses. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

When Lewis Smith heard the news about the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, he was devastated — but he also knew that the carnage could have been minimized.

In his job as manager of national projects for the Canada Safety Council (CSC), Smith has been advocating for seat belts on coach buses for years.

"Overall despair," he said of his initial reaction. "It's always tragic to see any kind of incident on such a large scale involve so many young lives, and definitely something we'd like to see changed sooner than later."

The CSC is a not-for-profit, independent group that advocates to prevent deaths and improve best practices.

Though he is quick to say that he does not know all the circumstances of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, Lewis Smith of the Canada Safety Council said that seat belts are designed to save lives. (CBC )

Across Canada, there are no regulations that say a coach bus must have seat belts, and even for the ones that do have belts, there are no laws requiring passengers to wear them.

Smith is quick to say he doesn't have all the information on what happened in the Broncos bus crash near Tisdale, Sask., on Friday evening.

But he said coach buses face many of the same safety factors as other passenger vehicles that are covered under seat belt legislation.

"It's hard to say without having all the facts whether seat belts would have helped in this case without having all the facts, but as a general rule, seat belts are designed to save lives."

Smith said Transport Canada has looked into the issue before, but legislation changes would have to be made at a provincial level.

Why school buses don't have seat belts

And even if seat belts are mandatory, would anybody wear them?

"On the one hand, a person on a bus might see that a social opportunity to get up, to talk with friends, to play cards and what have you," Smith said.

"The second factor that plays into it, is that from an early age we are taught not to wear belts on buses because school buses don't have belts."

The Canada Safety Council does not call for seat belts to be used on school buses however, and Smith said their design could make belts more dangerous than helpful.

School buses have special safety features that make seat belts unnecessary, but coach buses do not generally have the same features. (Dave Gaudet/CBC)

With high-backed seats situated close together, the design is intended to compartmentalize the passengers and keep them in a small space. The bus itself is designed to prevent rollovers, and the windows are small to prevent passengers being thrown from the vehicle.

But coach buses don't follow the same design for seating, and have windows that often stretch the length and height of the vehicle.

While the CSC has been pushing for change for years, Smith said it's unfortunate it took a tragedy to get people talking about the issue.

"This is when people are paying the most attention," he said. "This is when it is at its most relevant in public society. So if we are going to see a change, it's unfortunately going to be reactionary rather than preventative."