The federal government has announced that Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district has been selected for a pilot project to test seat belts on school buses. (Nanaimo News Bulletin file)

Nanaimo-Ladysmith selected for pilot project to try seatbelts on school buses

Transport Canada announces pilot project following task force recommendations

Seatbelts on school buses will be tested in Nanaimo-Ladysmith later this school year.

Nanaimo-Ladysmith Public Schools was one of two school districts that will take part in a pilot project which will see a select number of new buses fitted with “three-point seatbelts that follow the latest federal safety standards,” beginning in January 2021, according to a press release from the Government of Canada.

The need for the pilot is based on findings of the of the Task Force on School Bus Safety, a group made up of representatives on federal, provincial and territorial levels as well as a number of school bus safety stakeholders. The project will help gather information needed for any future application of the use of seat belts, if needed, the press release said.

There are numerous operational considerations in relation to seatbelt usage, the release added, including “proper seatbelt adjustment and children moving around in their seats or unbuckling.”

Nanaimo-Ladysmith district will receive two buses, Pete Sabo, district executive of planning and operations, said at a press conference Friday, Sept. 11.

“It’s expanded past seatbelts into a number of other safety measures that Transport Canada wants to look at and so the buses are equipped with other items, including exterior infraction cameras, exterior 360-degree cameras, extended stop-arms and some buses will have automatic emergency braking,” said Sabo. “There’ll also be use of the interior camera system for monitoring seatbelt use.”

Mark Walsh, district secretary-treasurer, said prior to start-up, the district will engage in a privacy impact assessment, which will be made available to affected families.

Sabo said the district is hoping to hire someone from within to gather information for the pilot, as there is a “funded monitor” for each route.

Rob Zver, president of the education support workers union local, said he wants to see more information, but said a pilot project is the correct way to go.

“Safety is always the top thing we want, but for kids of young age, will it create more problems on the bus itself for other reasons? I don’t know…” said Zver. “They’re making the right move by suggesting that we do a pilot the way they’re going to, I just don’t know if the timing’s right. I really do think the pilot will give us the understanding of problems that could arise or not arise with seatbelts or not wearing seatbelts.”

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Stephanie Higginson, B.C. School Trustees Association president, said seatbelts on buses are something the association advocated for in the past. She said the association has written to the provincial government to ask for full funding to implement recommendations proposed by the task force.

“As a parent, I would want my kids to be as safe as possible,” said Higginson. “I also know that school bus transportation is one of the safest ways for kids to get to school. Even without seatbelts, it’s one of the safest ways because they have so many safety requirements. They have to have body strength, roll-over protection, structural integrity, bus-window retention, all these things that are required to make them very safe.”

According to the B.C. Ministry of Education, total funding for all buses in the project is $880,000 and while costs haven’t been finalized yet, Nanaimo-Ladysmith will receive about two-thirds of that.

Fraser-Cascade school district is the other participant in the pilot and will receive one bus.

Sau Sau Liu, Transport Canada spokesperson, said the pilot will serve to validate the task force guidelines and “generate real-world evidence to help inform decision-making” on the subject.

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