Humboldt Broncos parent, others applaud changes to bus crash intersection
Report cites signage, trees and 'human factors' among safety issues
The Saskatchewan government is promising to install rumble strips, lights, signs and road markers at the site where the Humboldt Broncos bus collided with a transport truck.
"To see this is going to be addressed, it's a good thing," said Scott Thomas, whose son, Evan was one of 16 people killed in the crash.
The changes planned for the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 also include removal of trees, limiting nearby access roads, and the relocation of the roadside Broncos memorial. The total estimated cost is several hundred thousand dollars.
The announcement came during the release of an independent report on the collision, which also left 13 people injured.
Broncos president Jamie Brockman said he's really pleased with the recommendations.
"To be honest, I wasn't expecting that there'd be that much," he said.
"The fact that there is is indicative of how important something was to happen out there to improve and prevent anything like this from happening again."
Brockman said he was especially happy to see the rumble strips as a suggested improvement.
Victims' families, experts and others have been demanding improvements to the intersection since the tragedy in April.
Action has been taken on a number of other fronts. Last week, Saskatchewan Government Insurance Minister Joe Hargrave cited the Broncos crash in announcing mandatory training for semi drivers. Although Hargrave was criticized for exempting farmers from the new rules — coming in March — most called it a positive first step.
The driver of the semi was charged with 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. He has not yet entered a plea. His next appearance is scheduled for Tuesday.
When highway fatalities occur, the government typically conducts an internal traffic review. After considering "the seriousness of this collision and the significant attention paid to it," the Ministry of Justice commissioned McElhanney Consulting Services Ltd. to handle things, according to a government news release.
McElhanney conducted interviews, created a 3D scan of the site and analyzed historic traffic data.
The intersection has had fewer crashes than average. There have been only six incidents there in the past 28 years. The collision rate was less than one per million vehicles that passed through.
"No significant collision trends were identified at the intersection," stated the report.
That said, there are ways to make the intersection safer, stated the report. The government said it will implement every recommendation. They include:
- Better signage ($15,000).
- "Stop Ahead" pavement markings ($1,500).
- Tree removal from private property (cost unclear).
- New access road for relocated memorial (cost unclear).
- Light standards ($4,000).
- Highway 335 rumble strips ($300,000).
- Widen shoulders ($400,000/kilometre).
The study also looked at the "human factors" affecting safety at the intersection.
It is in a relatively remote part of northeast Saskatchewan. Drivers may be unusually tired after travelling for long periods to reach that point, it stated.
"Higher levels of fatigue can result in reduced alertness and increase reaction time, thus increasing the potential for errors or in some cases result in motorists falling asleep at the wheel," it states.
Motorists travelling Highway 335 could assume it's an uncontrolled intersection and "overlook" the stop sign. It's the only major intersection for more than 20 kilometres in either direction.
The alignment of trees, power poles and the horizon could lead to "tunnel vision" for drivers.
"The illusion was observed to be even more pronounced during wet and/or sun glare conditions," stated the report.
Thomas said the report was tough to read, but the changes are "a step in the right direction." He said it's good to know the intersection may be safer for all of the motorists in the future.
Thomas said changes are needed on many fronts, from seats belts on buses to training for semi drivers. He added it's important to improve standards for all intersections in the province.
"This intersection is one of those things that went wrong," Thomas said. "Things that should have been obvious are finally being recognized."
Humboldt tow truck driver Kurt Horudko cleaned up debris 20 years ago following the only other fatality at that intersection. He said improvements to any roadway are a good thing, but agreed with Thomas that it's just one of many elements.
"You can put up all the safety stuff in the world, but if there are other factors like guys being tired, it's not going to help nothing," Horudko said.
"Down the road there's another intersection, then another, then another."
- An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the Humboldt collision as taking place at the intersection of Highways 35 and Highway 355. In fact, it occurred at the intersection of Highway 35 and Highway 335.Dec 12, 2018 3:26 PM CT