I call to order this meeting of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. This is meeting 137.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are doing a study of bus passenger safety.
We will start with the witnesses we have with us for this section.
From DRL Coach Lines Ltd, we have Jason Roberts, chief executive officer. He is coming to us from Newfoundland and Labrador. From Parsons and Sons Transportation, we have Scott Parsons, president.
Mr. Roberts, perhaps you would like to lead off, please, for no more than five minutes.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
It's a pleasure to be with you people today via teleconference to talk about the safety of our operation and of all operations within the country for motorcoaches and school buses. Specifically right now we are more in the operation of motorcoaches. We operate a line-run scheduled service from Port aux Basques to St. John’s, and they're off every day of the year, 365 days a year.
We've been in the business for three years shy of a century. With DRL, it's been almost 25 years.
We have many decisions to make when it comes to safety. Of course you have to have a safe vehicle, and a competent and conscientious driver who meets the requirements. As the operator, we have to have confidence in the person operating the vehicle. For us, as the people who trust those people to operate safely, to feel very confident whom we're putting there, that's not an easy task, especially for us here in Newfoundland. A good driver can go to Alberta and probably make three times the money. We still have to be very dependent on whom we choose and whom we put behind the wheel.
As I stated, the safety record for motorcoaches.... We can't be too sure of...our maintenance team before the bus goes on the road. But as a driver, it's your last-second or multi-second decision that decides where we are. Either we're on the road or we're in the rhubarb, in the ditch. We count on them very confidently to do that task for us.
When it comes to motorcoaches, there are many things.... I think a lot of people look at motorcoaches, and even school buses as a playground. We pick up charter groups. We pick up people. Passengers get on a motorcoach and they feel as if they're almost indispensable. We have seat belts in all our motorcoaches, but 40% or 50% are being used.
I think education for passengers on the importance of wearing seat belts is a critical factor. That comes with time. As education and as more and more discussions go on, people are going to make sure they wear those seat belts.
On the training of drivers—and I will come back to the operator of the school bus or motorcoach—my recommendation is that the more we can do to guarantee we have competent, careful and cautious drivers...that's where I feel that we should be going for the safety of the travelling public on motorcoaches and school buses in this country.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak. I don't think I can say it all in five minutes. I'd love to be able to.
How do we achieve superior results in this industry? We employ superior people, we hire up, and we train, retrain, remedial train, we look for opportunities to be the best we can be for the passengers we carry.
In this country, I think we need more standardization of the way buses operate, and I think we need more standardization of the way our highways are marked. I'd like to know how many bus accidents were caused on ramps where the ramp speed was posted on the ramp and not before the ramp. I've seen this. I've seen buses where people were ejected from the bus and killed because the bus fell on them. Seat belts would definitely have prevented those deaths. We need better standardization of driver training. It just so happens that our company had the good fortune of joining forces with OMCA and Motor Coach Canada. We've been coming here for years. We've adopted every type of enhancement suggested to us by Brian Crow, Mr. Switzer, people in the OMCA, Dave Carroll—they've been our mentors. They've helped us to grow our business to be safe.
Training not only involves drivers, it involves mechanical staff. I'm lucky enough that I've been driving a bus and I've been a mechanic for 47 years. I've been to factory training at Prevost nine times, and Motor Coach Industries twice. I know the value of training, and I know that in our province today there are few places you can go where if you say MUX or DOC, DPF, DEF, that anyone in the garage would have a clue what you're talking about. This gives us a big problem when we're out on the road with a coach in Labrador or in the northern part of Newfoundland where I fix buses over the phone. It is a consideration. Manufacturers have stepped up. Prevost Car has Prevost Liaison. MCI has MCI ERSA, where now they can diagnose over a computer. It's fabulous. Technicians need to know how to do that. Companies have to invest in that.
Is there any minimal requirement for that? Would we be allowed to operate if the FAA was telling us how we should be conducting our business?
I've seen bad accidents caused by the way guardrails were posted on bridges. I wrote a letter to the Ministry of Transportation in Nova Scotia and had a bridge approach changed because of an accident involving one of our coaches. They tried to make it sound like it was the driver's inexperience on that bridge. A few years later, an Orléans Express bus went out into the water. Then I wrote the letter—two years too late. The bridge approach was changed and I received a letter from the Ministry of Transportation thanking me for my input.
We need more input like this. I consider this industry to be like a logic gate: more inputs, more outputs. We need more input from the industry.
I do think the seat belt rule is fabulous. I've retrofitted some MCI coaches with seat belts. It was costly but it was worth every penny. On safety announcements in coaches, I always do my safety announcement. I walk back through the bus and I make sure that people have their seat belts on. Whether they keep them on...how do we control that?
There's just too much to talk about, but I'm flattered that I'm here. I'm second generation. I filled up when I came here. I think you guys are onto something really good; I wish you the best of luck with it. If there's anything I can do, please let me know.
Of course, I think it's a very positive move to bring the seat belt regulation forward. It's going to take some time to get there. As I stated in the beginning, I think even with regard to the users of coaches—especially when you get into charters and into younger groups, younger teams—a lot of them feel that it's a place where, on board, they're safe and don't need seat belts. So, it's going to take some input, some education, some training and some encouragement to really get results out of that.
There are accidents that happen where people get hurt with their seat belts on. I have been witness to that. Two years ago, I had a rollover with a coach. It tipped on its side. It didn't go on the roof. The only ones who were injured were the ones who didn't have their seat belts on, and the ones with no seat belt on fell on the people who had seat belts on, with an elbow in the groin or whatever. So, it still takes usage of this to really make it work.
For me, it's going to be very difficult to enforce. On my scheduled service, actually, I have an on-board attendant, like a flight attendant. It's probably something I can give them or the government can give them: the autonomy to make sure that people have their seat belt on or at the next stop they're going to be asked to get off—“Take bags. See you. Goodbye. You're in violation of the act.” I can make that happen there very well. But, of course, that comes with a cost. I'm already incurring the cost, so I can make it happen relatively simply.
I don't think you're going to find that anywhere else in Canada, where there's an on-board attendant. Realistically, it's difficult.
I'll give you an example. I have coaches that take very professional men and women to job sites. Am I going to be called probably twice a week and asked if I can check and see if the men and women who are going to work on the coach are in compliance with wearing seat belts? I mean, come on. In my world, you're an adult lady. You're going to get on the coach. You have a seat belt. You know that you should have it on.
With school buses, it's a little different. Again, it's probably going to come back to a chaperone. I think the driver has enough stress and pressure to make sure he's driving the way he should, with due care and attention, to maintain his coach or school bus where it should be. He should not really have to make sure that the kids have seat belts on, or have some kid screeching that one kid has his seat belt off, you know?
It's going to be very difficult. It's going to have some sort of monitoring in order to get it to work. However, I think with time—and as Mr. Parsons stated—with the education of the kids, they will get on, and probably within five or six years, 95% of them will have their seat belts on. Again, it's not the driver's responsibility in a passenger car to make sure that the passengers have seat belts on, if they're of age. As for younger passengers, they are responsible.
Mr. Parsons and Mr. Roberts, one thing you could consider, if your coaches are equipped with safety belts, is to have some kind of document or notice on the ticket about contributory liability. If they're not wearing a safety belt and they are injured, that reduces the damages they're entitled to, because they have contributed to their own difficulty by not wearing the seat belt.
It becomes a little more difficult with kids, of course; normally a child isn't travelling alone, but then it should be the responsibility of the parent or guardian to make sure that happens.
Looking at your fleet, the focus of this study is to talk about survivability in the event of a crash. Obviously, anything you can do to prevent the crash in the first place is absolutely golden, but once a crash takes place, that's where the safety equipment on the vehicle makes a big difference.
Do either of you do a mid-life refit on your buses? Would you have an opportunity in that case of retrofitting seat belts, or is that a dead letter as far as you're concerned because you already have seat belts on all your coaches?
Go ahead, Scott.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to thank the witnesses for joining us.
Since the launch of our study on the possibility of equipping buses with seatbelts, I would say that the discourse has changed, especially after Minister posted a tweet on April 6. I'll read it to you, in case you missed it:
Our thoughts continue to be with the families of those who lost their lives in the Humboldt bus crash. We've taken measures to require new large & medium size intercity buses to be equipped with seatbelts.
Given this tweet, it seems that the minister's approach is clear and that his decision has been made. All new buses will be equipped with seatbelts. Since the issue is no longer being raised for new buses, we must now focus on the transition.
How can companies such as yours, which probably already operate a number of buses without seatbelts, make this transition? I suppose that passengers who are aware of this new standard or this desire expressed by the will prefer to board a bus equipped with seatbelts.
How much would it cost to convert a bus that doesn't have seatbelts to a bus that meets the standards? How many years would it take to convert your respective fleets?
Mr. Parsons, let's start with you.
I have that opinion. Many of our provinces have a lifespan on coaches. In Newfoundland we have 12 years. There's a new bus this year, so if this happens two years from now, maybe with your 10-year integration plan everything will have evolved in time, so we'll be there.
Again, I agree with Mr. Parsons about the school bus that it's not feasible to get something that's at mid-life and do it. Motorcoaches are a little bit different again. Motorcoaches have different bodies and different lifespans. Most of them are stainless steel and fibreglass. It has a forever ongoing lifespan when it comes to the actual structure of the unit. I think it can be feasible to do this with motorcoaches going back to a certain year, providing someone is going to guarantee it, and the manufacturer is going to state that it meets the standard of what a three-point seat belt should be. For our fleet now, I think I might have two left that don't have seat belts. I have four 2019s. They all have seat belts. Everything since 2013 has had seat belts.
One of the things I will mention, as Mr. Parsons mentioned also, is Prevost. Since 2013, it's been mandatory...they won't manufacture a coach without seat belts. I think it's a liability thing. It's good to know that when you buy a coach, between me and you, I think that....
I don't know how to answer that question; I really don't.
I know when the idea of seat belts came around, MCI started building their frames sturdier in 2003. I think, from unit number 68-300, Prevost can retrofit a bus with three-point seat belts quite easily. They just remove the old seats and put in the new seats with the three-point belts. Before that, they'd have to take the rail out of the floor, cut a piece of plywood from the bottom and strengthen the frame. The interior walls would have had to be removed, at a cost of $82,000 per unit. I know, because I just had some buses that I wanted to send away to have it done, and I couldn't afford it. It puts a little bit of pressure on us.
What we've been doing to help ourselves deal with this is to make sure our drivers are very well trained. Our driver training with our company exceeds the norm by a long shot. Every pay period, if time sheets are handed in, drivers go inside and we talk about safety. We have committees within our organization that deal with risk and try to manage it as much as we can. Every one of our employees is charged with safety and making sure the operation is safe. The best way to manage that is to not be involved in an accident where seat belts would be required to save lives. We make sure we don't put ourselves in that position, as much as we can.
This is why I go back to dealing with the way that signage is put on ramps and the ways that guardrails and approaches to rivers and bridges are probably not adequate in some areas. At rock outcroppings with no guardrails, if drivers are inattentive for two seconds and lose the shoulder of the road, they hit a rock outcropping in our province; it's not like Saskatchewan. We have dangers in our province that are out of the norm. We deal with that internally. We constantly look inward. We self-analyze.
I think that's what we're doing here today. How we're doing...I think it's working.
We'll call the meeting back to order.
On this part of our meeting, from Motor Coach Canada, we have Doug Switzer, president and chief executive officer, Ontario Motor Coach Association; and from Motor Coach Industries, we have John-Paul Pelletier, vice-president, engineering, by video conference. For Teamsters Canada, we have Phil Benson.
Welcome to all of you. We appreciate your being here.
Mr. Switzer, would you like to lead off, please, for five minutes only.
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this important dialogue around motorcoach safety.
At the outset, I think it's important to remind ourselves that on the whole, motorcoaches are the safest mode of surface transportation, and second only to airlines in incidents per distance travelled.
That being said, no means of travel, in fact one could argue no human activity is ever perfectly safe. No matter how good your record, there is always more that can be done.
One thing I have learned about safety in over 20 years' experience in both government and industry is that there is no such thing as “safe”. There is no magic end point; you're never done and there is always something more that you can do next.
Briefly, these are the areas where industry and government can work together now to have the greatest impact on improving motorcoach safety: increasing seat belt use, finally moving forward on electronic logs, improving enforcement, and doing a better job of collecting and analyzing motorcoach safety data. I look forward to discussing these points further during your questions
There has been a lot of talk about seat belts lately. First, with regard to seat belts, let me be clear that the industry unequivocally supports them. We have been calling for a federal manufacturing standard and requirement for over a decade, lobbying which has, frankly, been largely ignored.
But despite the lack of interest by governments, around 2009, the industry and manufacturers moved to make seat belts standard equipment even without a regulatory mandate. And so, for almost the past decade, most new buses have come with three-point belts installed, although there are noticeable exceptions due to the lack of manufacturing requirement. We are moving forward as quickly as possible to ensure all coaches are equipped with belts, but because the lifespan of a motorcoach is 18 to 20 years—and I think that question came up earlier—it will still take a few more years before we get 100% adoption.
With respect to retrofitting, it's complicated and possibly dangerous if done incorrectly, and there was a bit of discussion with the previous panel about that. It's not as simple as just changing the seats, or worse, just adding belts on to existing seats. To be done properly, you need to anchor the seat to the body of the coach, which usually requires the coach to be ripped open and modified, potentially changing the structure of the coach, depending on how old the coach is and what it was originally manufactured with. And if the belts are improperly installed, they are a much greater safety risk than no belts at all because the belts themselves can become the safety hazard. It is frankly a difficult option for most coaches, unfortunately.
There is also an important issue regarding provincial laws creating driver liability for ensuring minors wear belts. Despite CCMTA agreeing many years ago that the provinces needed to remove the liability for bus drivers, only Quebec has done anything about it. The issue here is that the liability exists only if the coach has belts. If there are no belts, there is no liability. Thus it's been a very real disincentive for operators to install belts—a disincentive that most have ignored, but not all. This needs to be addressed.
But at the end of the day, the fact that a majority of coaches now have three-point belts means that given the very low usage rate, that's really where the problem lies. This is one area where we could all do a better job by getting people to wear their belts. We don't need a new law, as some have suggested. It's already the law in all provinces that you have to wear a belt if you're on a moving vehicle. It's just not enforced and it's not culturally done. So, we as an industry are looking at what we can do to increase usage.
Improving coach safety, however, goes beyond simply the issue of seat belt use.
We need the government to get on with mandating electronic logging devices, ELDs. Again, the industry has supported making these mandatory for some time. We accepted grudgingly that the Canadian government would not act until it saw what the U.S. government did for the sake of harmonization. But the U.S. law was announced years ago and has been in effect since 2017, yet we still don't have a clear path forward on Canadian regulations.
The existing “hours of service” regulations are adequate, and while some will pick at the details, liking this aspect and wanting to change that, remember that the current rules are the result of years of consultation, study and debate. They were not arrived at lightly, and there's no evidence that the rules themselves contribute to fatigue. But cheating does. And that's why we need ELDs now to make sure that drivers don't exceed the regulations.
And speaking of better enforcement of existing rules, little or nothing ever seems to happen to get unscrupulous operators off the road. For the most part, the safety regulatory regime is in fact sound. We have enough laws, but what we need is better targeted enforcement at the provincial level on those bad actors who ignore the good laws.
Finally, one of the frustrations that I think everyone trying to improve motor coach safety experiences is trying to find accurate motorcoach safety stats. In most road safety stats, we are categorized as commercial vehicles, lumping us in with trucks; or we are deemed buses, but that includes transit vehicles and school buses. Transport Canada and the provinces need to break out and make available the specific collision data for motorcoaches so that we can all do a better job of understanding the trends and the real causes of fatalities and injuries. Then we can all figure out what the next step forward is, because there should always be a next step forward.
Thank you. I look forward to your questions.
Good morning, Madam Chair and members of the committee on bus passenger safety.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to join the committee to speak on bus passenger safety. New Flyer Industries on the transit bus side and Motor Coach Industries of the coach business, both members of the New Flyer Group based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, value passenger safety as our highest priority.
Motor Coach Industries is committed to working with the motorcoach industry stakeholders to make its vehicles as safe as reasonably possible. This includes working with motorcoach operators, key industry associations, regulators and government, both in Canada and the United States, including Transport Canada, the Transportation Safety Board, NHTSA, the NTSB and the FMCSA.
Bus and motorcoach travel remains among the safest modes of transportation. Studies have been published along with data collected annually by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in the U.S. supporting this.
MCI has a history of implementing safety systems and working regulators in both the U.S. and Canada. When proven reliable and fit for service, MCI has implemented new technologies and collaborated with regulatory bodies on proposed and final rule making. All MCI motorcoaches are designed with an integrated semi-monocoque stainless steel and high-strength steel structure for safety, reliability and corrosion resistance.
Some examples of the safety systems and technologies that have been made standard on MCI coaches include high-mount stop lights; laminated side glazing; electronic stability control, going back to 2008; automatic traction control, going back to 2008; fire suppression, going back to 2009; tire pressure monitoring, going back to 2009; and digital wheel end monitoring, going back to 2010.
Some additional safety systems that we've made available on coaches include seat belts, going back to late 2008 and becoming standard on MCI coaches in 2016; forward collision warning, collision mitigation and adaptive cruise control in 2015; and then, finally, enhanced advanced emergency braking and lane departure warning in late 2018, as well as 360° bird's-eye view cameras in 2016.
There are also several recent regulations that will positively impact the overall safety of motorcoaches by improving both occupant and driver safety. These include requiring seat belts on coaches in the United States in November 2016, and then in Canada in 2020; electronic stability control in June 2018 in the United States, and then also coming to Canada; as well as the electronic logging devices made standard in December 2017 in the United States.
Advanced driver assistance systems, autonomous vehicles and connected vehicles are advancing rapidly in the automotive and commercial vehicle spaces. The development of passive ADAS currently available is significant for occupant and vehicle safety. It includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, collision mitigation with advanced emergency braking, traffic sign recognition and overspeed alerts, as well as lane departure warning.
There is continued development needed for both passive and active driver assistance systems, which include pedestrian and object detection warning, driver fatigue and drowsy driver systems, lane-keeping assist, automatic lane changing and lane-change assist, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, as well as the journey to levels 2, 3 and 4 automated driving.
While bus and motorcoach travel remain among the safest modes of transportation, the industry needs to continue to enhance passenger safety by collaborating with its key stakeholders, including regulators and government, in both Canada and the United States, including Transport Canada and the United States Department of Transportation; vehicle manufacturers and our key supplier partners; vehicle owners and operators; and industry associations such as the OMCA, the American Bus Association, the United Motorcoach Association and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.
I would like to thank you again for the opportunity to present to the committee, and I look forward to your questions.
Teamsters Canada represents more than 125,000 workers in all sectors of the economy. Teamsters Canada is Canada's supply chain and transportation union. Teamsters Canada represents drivers in the coach and school bus sectors.
In preparing our submission, Teamsters Canada sought opinions and thoughts directly from the shop floor of the members, and the experience of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in states where seat belts are mandated on school buses.
A decade or more ago, I took part in school bus seat belt discussions. The science was clear: the egg-crate passive system was inadequate; it did nothing for higher-speed collisions, T-bones and rollovers. Seat belts were needed, but there would be no seat belts until the U.S. got on board. As U.S. children would never wear seat belts, it wouldn't happen, and the cost of implementation...just don't go there.
We heard from the members about the need for strong, mandated maintenance schedules rigorously enforced by governmental agencies. Technology has advanced. All buses should have ABS emergency braking, anti-roll prevention, newer technologies, pre-collision pedestrian detection and blind-side warnings. These stay-in-lane features should just be part of every bus.
In the charter and tourist sector, our members told us the new buses are equipped with seat belts. In the industrial setting, transporting workers to and from the job, there are two experiences. In some provincially regulated workspaces, for example the oil sands, seat belts are mandatory health and safety equipment. In the federally regulated workspace, no seat belts are used. There appears to be no issue surrounding seat belt use when they're available on those forms of coach transportation.
School buses often travel on highways. The expectation is the best safety equipment should be available to all children, starting with well-paid professional drivers behind the wheel. The teamsters place safety of the public and the members at the forefront. We believe some issues will have to be addressed if the government moves forward on implementing the mandatory use of seat belts on school buses.
We represent more than 1,000 school bus drivers in Quebec alone. We transport hundreds of thousands of children every day. The members made it very clear that drivers must always remain at the wheel to maintain full control of the vehicle while conducting safety-critical functions. They must also maintain visual contact with vehicular traffic and with children, outside and inside the bus, while preparing to move safely to the next stop. Drivers cannot leave their station, cannot be responsible for buckling and unbuckling children, and must not be held liable if children are not buckled in. Vehicles cannot move until all passengers in a vehicle are securely buckled in.
Complying with a seat belt rule may not be an issue for older students, but it is foreseeable that it will be for kindergarten and elementary students, or for unruly students of any age. Parents and teachers are not allowed to go on a school bus to buckle and unbuckle children. Drivers are not allowed to touch students or leave their place behind the wheel. Delays in completing a route in these circumstances are foreseeable.
The members are very concerned over the safety of the students when an accident does occur. If evacuation of students is required, the driver would be, of course, assisting in unbuckling children. What if the driver is incapacitated? This foreseeable scenario would be especially difficult if the trip involved junior-age children.
In our discussion with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, we found that where states mandate the use of seat belts on school buses, a monitor is on the school bus to buckle and unbuckle children, if needed, and to manage unruly students. Children with special needs are transported separately on the school bus system. Our investigation in Canada showed that some school board monitors are currently on school buses, and further, that children with special needs are transported separately from the school bus system.
We heard that retrofitting of seat belts in school buses was given up to $20,000; on a 50-seat bus, that's $400 amortized over the life of the bus. It works out to a cup of coffee a trip, or perhaps a few pennies. A monitor is a cappuccino. The mandate of Transport Canada puts costs and profits of industry first, passes light through public safety and ignores all else. It cannot look at the cost of accidents, treating serious injuries, the health costs nor the social-moral costs to individuals, boards and politicians. This mandate must change.
Even if it is only a cup of coffee a trip, we expect companies and boards to try to recover incremental increases in costs. Teamsters Canada will fight to ensure the costs are not borne by drivers through decreased wages. School bus drivers earn no more than $25,000 to $30,000 a year. They work split shifts, with two or three trips in the morning and two or three trips in the afternoon. They can't get another job. Just like everywhere else, they have stagnant wage growth.
Shortages of workers, school bus drivers, truckers...well, it seems every time a commodity price increases, prices go up, except for labour.
Workers in this sector earned 8.5% less on average in 2015 than comparable jobs in the private transportation sector, and the gap is widening.
We're also concerned that if it's not done right, there will be delays and drivers being disciplined for being late and perhaps feeling forced to go faster, defeating the purpose of doing it.
I'm almost wrapped up.
Clearly our position is that the driver can't be liable. The driver's job is to sit at the wheel and take care of the vehicle.
From our experience—from members who do charter coaches for tourism, etc.—people put their seat belts on. Though I took part in those studies, my daughter was six and got on a bus, then got off the bus the first time, and said, “Daddy, I can't go on the bus. There's no seat belt.” I had to lie to her—I'm sorry, honey, if you're listening to this—but I said, “No, it's safe.” It was a short haul. “It should be okay.”
In the IBT experience in the States where seat belts are on, this was not an issue. As I said, when the study came in, part of the reason we weren't doing it was this whole harmonization issue. I totally agree with Mr. Switzer that we have lots of agreements on this in other regulatory bodies. Sometimes, we have to be courageous and move forward without the Americans. There are other times we do. With the fleets coming forward, and the structure they have, it makes it easier now to move forward than it was 10, 12 or 15 years ago.
At the end of the day, the driver can't be liable, but we have to look at the situation of monitors on school buses—people being responsible. There has to be something in law, provincially or federally, saying that if you don't wear a seat belt and something happens, then you're on your own.
Thank you all for being here.
Mr. Pelletier, your company has really deep experience with both New Flyer and MCI. I used to work for TransLink, the Metro Vancouver transportation authority—a very good customer of yours, in fact, on the New Flyer side.
I recall that there had been some crashes when BC Transit was operating the system. A standard block-stop bus was put out on the highway. There could have been people standing, etc., and there were fatalities as a result of the crash.
Would you recommend that there be a difference in design between a standard transit bus and a bus that's going to go at highway speeds—a different design, a different configuration and regulations to stipulate that a different bus has to be used?
What we heard is that for speeds above 50 kilometres an hour, a three-point hitch is definitely needed. If you're looking particularly at school bus operations, you would perhaps be looking at a requirement for different configurations.
Going back to you, Mr. Pelletier—looking at your motorcoach experience specifically—what kind of research and development is your company doing, with respect to improving compartmentalization? Here, I'm thinking of those wings that you can have on seatbacks to prevent side-to-side head movement in the event of a crash. Even something a little more.... My colleague, Mr. Badawey, mentioned this to me, so I'm going to steal his question—what about active restraints, such as those on carnival rides, where something comes down and fits you in? It doesn't matter what size you are: it works.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to thank all the witnesses for joining us this morning.
Mr. Benson, I'll start with you, since you've been studying this issue for a long time.
I'm pleased to see a very broad consensus, even unanimity, with regard to the importance of seatbelt use. A few years ago, we wouldn't have imagined that the Americans would adopt this measure before us.
Can you summarize how the Americans transitioned, after they had accepted the regulations? Can we draw any inspiration for our own transition?
You hit the nail very much on the head. The market forces have played a huge factor in this.
When the industry started lobbying for seat belts back in the early 2000s, it was because we were getting a lot of pressure from our customers to have coaches with belts and they wanted to know what the standard should be. That's why we wanted the government to adopt a standard: we wanted to know what to build.
A seat belt is more complicated that just a couple of strips of nylon. It has to fit a certain engineering standard for how many Gs of force it can withstand and all that, and nobody wanted to put in 10G belts when the government was going to come along later and mandate 12G belts.
That's why we wanted the manufacturing standard and also why coaches started being built and bought with belts on them already, even though there was no government regulation. It was because of those market forces.
That's accelerating now. For many of our members, it's not a regulatory issue, it's a marketplace issue. Particularly because of Humboldt, there's a lot more attention around it. Whether you're a hockey team, a school board or a church group, there's a lot more attention around people saying, no, they want the coach with belts.
As Mr. Parsons mentioned and he has been doing, some operators have been retrofitting where it's possible. In a sense, the committee's job is being done for it when it comes to seat belt use, because people are demanding them now, and those operators who have belts will get customers and those who don't won't.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Switzer, in the MCC fact sheet dated November 2018, there's a quite interesting paragraph. I'll read it in full:
Despite the current attention on belts, they are not a cure-all for all accidents. They are helpful in certain circumstances and in certain kinds of accidents, but simply having belts does not automatically guarantee passenger safety. Therefore, not having belts does not really endanger passenger safety.
In a previous panel, we heard totally opposite conclusions where they were saying seat belts are a must.
Can you elaborate more on that?
Also, as my colleague was suggesting to me, what happens in terms of passenger-to-passenger collision?
When there's an accident, there are passengers with no seat belts who will end up crashing into each other. Right?
To address the fact sheet, what I was trying to say there is that seat belts are not the only safety issue. As I said in my opening remarks, the issue of coach safety goes beyond just having seat belts. Seat belts are important and no one would suggest otherwise, and we certainly don't suggest otherwise, but they are not a panacea for all incidents.
In many accidents where people die on coaches, they could be wearing their seat belts and they will die anyway, because let's face it, when a fully loaded tractor trailer slams into the side of a coach, whether you're wearing a belt or not isn't really going to make a difference. In many other incidents, if a coach doesn't roll over, if it's just a head-on collision, the old compartmentalization theory will also apply.
The point there is that while seat belts are important, and we absolutely support seat belts and everybody should have seat belts and they should all wear their seat belts, we're suggesting that there is more to coach safety than just seat belts. They are not the be-all and end-all of safety.
One of the problems with being the last guy up is that all the good questions have been asked. I was sitting here thinking that our analysts were going to have their work cut out for them trying to come up with some concluding recommendations for our report because there has been a wide variety of views on all of these issues by our witnesses. The one, though, that keeps coming up consistently is that—and we heard it again today—motorcoach is the second-safest mode of transportation next to airlines. It raises the question that if it's already the second-safest mode of transportation, are we spinning our wheels by actually undertaking this study because it looks like this is, in the views of many of our witnesses, a committee looking for problems where there don't seem to be that many problems?
We had the head of pediatrics here, and, again, there was the whole question about school buses and seat belts, which prompted Mr. Sikand's question. The head of pediatrics responded that—and these are my words and not his—very few, if any, children are actually.... They don't deal with injuries and near-death injuries in the pediatrics ward from children inside the bus; it's outside the bus. So we spend an awful lot of our time on whether there should be seat belts in buses, or shouldn't be seat belts and back and forth.
I don't want to take up too much time, Madam Chair, because I want my colleague to have his full 15 minutes here.
Are there any closing comments that any of you would want to make relative to what I've just been blathering on about?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'll preface my comments by repeating what I said at the last meeting. Although we're tight on time, I don't want to lose this opportunity of time presented to the committee. Quite frankly, I think most people around the table agree with it. However, once again, time is a problem. We do have a set schedule, coming up to the end of our term in June.
What I would propose, Madam Chair, is agreeing to the motion. The only thing I would amend for now—because depending on time, it can change later on, with respect to some of the things we're sinking our teeth into right now—is the sentence that says, “no less than two meetings”. I would say, “no less than one hour”, which would be half a meeting, “of the Committee be dedicated to this study”.
I do want to repeat what I just said. If, in fact, we do come into more time, based on what we're getting into next, then possibly we can consider giving more time to this particular issue at that time. I'm just uncomfortable with dedicating it now, because I don't want to impede the other processes we're involving ourselves in.