Bus Safety Standards Questioned In Wake Of Deadly Oregon Crash

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Questions about safety standards follow the fatal crash of a tour bus in Oregon that was travelling to Vancouver.
Questions about safety standards follow the fatal crash of a tour bus in Oregon that was travelling to Vancouver.

The deadly crash of a Vancouver-bound bus in Oregon has ignited a debate over whether seatbelts should be mandatory on chartered buses.

Nine people died and 38 were injured when the bus, operated by Port Coquitlam's Mi Joo Tour & Travel, flipped over a guardrail on a stretch of Interstate 84 east of Pendleton, Ore.

The bus plummeted more than 60 metres down an embankment, and many of the passengers were thrown from the bus. Only the driver was wearing a seatbelt.

Transport Canada does not require passenger seats to have seatbelts on charter or school buses.

The federal agency says restraints wouldn't be helpful in very many accidents and despite the tragic nature of crashes such as the one in Oregon on Sunday, buses are actually very safe.

Catherine Benesch, who speaks for the Canada Safety Council, agreed buses are statistically one of the safest forms of transportation.

"[There are] 200 million kilometres travelled annually by motor coaches in Canada, and [for] comparison purposes, 3,000 Canadians die a year in passenger vehicles. With motor coaches ... it's less than one per cent of all highway fatalities. So it's a very safe form of transportation in general," she said.

She added seatbelts in passenger vehicles save about 1,000 lives in Canada every year, but buses aren't necessarily designed for the lap restraints.

Transport Canada does note there are some situations where seatbelts could be a benefit, including cases where someone is ejected, which is what happened in Sunday's crash in Oregon.

Some charter bus companies have decided on their own to equip their new buses with safety belts.

Sheldon Eggen, president of Charter Bus Lines of British Columbia, said it was a simple decision for him now that the option is available.

"It's simple for me, because if there's any chance they're safer, why wouldn't you buy them if they're available?" he said.

"They weren't available before so we couldn't buy them — so we have lots of buses that don't have them — but now that they're available, every bus that we buy is going to have seat belts."

Eggen also agrees buses are one of the safest transportation options, but adds it's hard to think in terms of statistics.

"The number of accidents out there is very, very few statistically but you know, one life, if it's someone close to you, it's very important. So even if they save one life, it's worth it," he said.

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