Ottawa bus crash reinforces need for higher standards, safety board says

Friday's fatal bus crash in Ottawa underscores the need for higher safety standards on large buses, according to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB), which on Monday repeated an earlier call to help protect bus passengers.

Most city buses lack passenger protections that are required on other vehicles

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has recommended the government put standards in place to mandate how public transit buses perform in collisions. (@karinawieser/Twitter)

Friday's fatal bus crash in Ottawa underscores the need for higher safety standards on large buses, according to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB), which on Monday repeated an earlier call to help protect bus passengers. 

The incident, which killed three people and injured 23 others, "reinforces the urgent need for Transport Canada to take action on implementing crashworthiness standards for commercial buses," said TSB chair Kathy Fox, citing the 2018 Humboldt bus crash and an earlier bus-train accident in Ottawa as other examples. 

"Buses in this weight category can have different structural features that may not adequately protect the travelling public," Fox wrote in a statement. 

The TSB made the same call after an Ottawa city bus and a VIA Rail train collided in 2013.

Following that crash, investigators found there was very little to protect the bus passengers.

That vehicle had "no front bumper, and its front-end frame was not designed to provide impact protection," the agency wrote in its report. 

Most vehicles in Canada are required to provide some level of protection in front-end collisions, rollovers, side-impact crashes and other types of crashes.

But those standards aren't required for vehicles weighing more than 11,793 kilograms, which covers most public transit buses.

Fox said some work had been done, but Transport Canada should move more urgently to set standards.

"Progress has been very slow … so we believe they need to expedite their work," Fox said in an interview with CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Tuesday.

The TSB is an arm's-length agency which makes recommendations to Transport Canada, which establishes regulations.

No need for TSB to investigate bus crash: Watson

4 years ago
Duration 0:45
Ottawa mayor Jim Watson said there's no need for the federal Transportation Safety Board to investigate last week's bus crash which killed three people. Unlike the bus-train crash which killed six people in 2013, the TSB does not have an automatic responsibility to investigate in this case.

Calls for TSB to investigate

On Monday, family members of Humboldt crash victims called on the TSB to investigate Friday's crash in Ottawa alongside Ottawa police.

In April 2018, 16 people were killed when the Humboldt hockey team's bus was hit by a tractor-trailer in Saskatchewan.

"We have been disappointed by the missed opportunities to advance road safety and the many lives lost or severely altered because we have failed to learn from past mistakes," they wrote in an open letter to Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. 

The letter argued a TSB investigation would be the only way to ensure broader lessons are learned. 

Watson said he believes the police are best suited to handle this case, and added that the TSB isn't mandated to handle road accidents.

It investigated the 2013 bus-train crash because it involved a train.

Police have expertise, TSB says

Fox said the TSB's mandate comes from federal legislation and changing it would require an act of Parliament.

"It's not up to the TSB to decide what is or isn't in its mandate. It's really up to Parliament to decide," she said.

But, Fox said, given the TSB's experience investigating the 2013 bus-train crash, the TSB has reached out to Ottawa police to offer assistance if it's needed.

"To be clear, the Ottawa Police Service has a lot of expertise and experience in investigating road accidents and collisions. So we've offered our support just in terms of any technical assistance we can give," she said.

"It's heartwrenching to see this letter from the families of the Humboldt victims, but certainly public advocacy as well as our own hopefully can help improve the safety bar for others in the future."

Review complete, Transport Canada says

Delphine Denis, a spokesperson for Transport Minister Marc Garneau, said the ministry is looking into the issue of crashworthiness for large vehicles. 

"We have completed a review of accident data from urban centres to support the potential development of a standard for crashworthiness. Work is already underway to bolster this review through tests on bus structures to inform next steps," she said in an email.

"We will continue to work with the Transportation Safety Board to address safety concerns."

A spokesperson for Transport Canada said the department is also working to establish new guidelines on potentially distracting video displays and rules around crash-data recorders, which the TSB also recommended after the 2013 crash.