July 25, 2017

Type of van in fatal N.B. crash banned from use by N.S. schools

The van that went out of control on a New Brunswick highway, resulting in eight deaths, is in a class of vehicle criticized by United States overnment agencies as lacking stability in emergencies. chools in Nova Scotia are banned from using the vehicles and the U.S. overnment has issued safety warnings about them. David White, director f the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board’s motor carrier division, aid the agency moved to end the use of 15-seat vans by schools ollowing two fatal crashes in the province in the 1980s. “We set out to create an alternative method of transport that would be safe,” he said.

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In a 1984 accident, four members of a hockey team were killed when the van they were travelling in slid into the rear of a transport truck on a slippery road in Amherst, N.S. White believes Nova Scotia is the only province that prohibits the large vans from being used for school outings. The accident early on Saturday morning involved a 1997 Ford Club Wagon, which has 15 seats. It collided with a transport truck outside Bathurst, killing seven members of a high school basketball team and the wife of the team’s
coach, who was driving the van. He was among four others who survived the accident.

On Monday police released more details of what happened in Saturday’s accident. RCMP Cpl. Dan Melanson said the van’s right-side wheels slipped onto the shoulder of the road and there may have been an “over-correction” before it collided with the truck. “The van then would have come into a skid sideways, crossing the centre
line and with the tractor-trailer heading southbound, that is where the collision occurred.”

Police are still investigating but they have said slippery road conditions were a factor in the accident. They said there was no wrongdoing. The RCMP said the van had all-season radials but not winter tires on it.

In the United States, schools are banned from buying or leasing new 15-seat vans but can use older ones, said Rae Tyson, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The type of van that went out of control outside Bathurst belongs to a class of vehicle that was criticized five years ago by national transportation safety agencies in the United States as lacking stability in emergencies.

In 2002, a National Transportation Safety Board study in the U.S. said the vehicles “are involved in a higher number of single-vehicle accidents involving rollovers than are other passenger vehicles.” The board said the vans, when loaded with passengers, become less stable and are harder to control in emergency manoeuvres. “Nearly loading a 15-passenger van causes the centre of gravity to move rearward and upward, which increases its rollover propensity,” said the summary at the time.

Tyson said there have been a number of consumer advisories following fatal accidents involving college students. “The administration has issued a series of advisories regarding the rollover risk associated with 15-passenger vans,” he said. “They’ve occurred over the past seven or eight years.”

Authorities in New Brunswick haven’t said if the van involved in the Bathurst crash rolled. The driver has yet to make a public statement about the accident. John McLaughlin, superintendent of the Bathurst-area District 15 school
board, said he wasn’t aware of the prohibition in Nova Scotia or of the U.S. safety reports. “We’ve never considered that. But I can tell you right now, my head isn’t on any of that stuff right now,” he said. “There will be time for
us to be thinking about those things. It’s just not right now.”

A public affairs manager at Ford sent an e-mail response when asked about the National Transportation Safety Board study and safety issues that have been raised in the past. Of course, if asked, we will co-operate fully with the authorities on any future investigations into the accident,” said Gina Gehlert.

Stephanie Simonsen, regional director of the Boys and Girls Clubs in Nova Scotia, said New Brunswick needs to reconsider allowing the transport of students in 15-seat vehicles. Simonsen said her group has been phasing the vehicles out of use since reading the U.S. warnings. “When I saw the announcement (of the accident), I turned to my husband and I said, ‘I bet that was a 15-passenger van’ and … I felt so badly,” she said Monday. “I don’t think they should be allowed, but the other thing we need to do is educate the public.”

Some insurance companies in the United States will no longer insure community agencies that use 15-passenger vans, said an executive with the YM-YWCA in Maine. Rob Reeves, chief executive of the YM-YWCA in Bangor, said he phased
out its five 15-seat vans on the advice of the Redwood Insurance Co. of North Carolina two years ago. “Our automobile insurance carriers started an educational process three years ago,” he said. “The extended-length vehicles aren’t meant to
transport students. “The National Transportation Safety Board said when you have injuries, unfortunately you have catastrophic injuries.”

New Brunswick Education Minister Kelly Lamrock said Monday the province has been focused on helping a community in need, and has not yet considered policies or equipment issues related to the accident. “I don’t particularly want to jump to any conclusions until we see the accident report and we get all the particular details about how this came to happen,” he said. Lamrock said there’s never any “absolute guarantee” that an accident won’t occur. “But we’re going to have a look and we will learn in every way we can about making those choices as risk-free as possible.”

While no other province in Canada has banned the vehicles, the Alberta government says their use is not recommended by schools. The position of the government of Alberta is that students are safest in school buses, and if not school buses then a multi-function activity bus, which is essentially the same thing but it’s not yellow and black, and it doesn’t have the flashing lights, but it’s built and designed to be virtually identical to a school bus,” said Dennis Bell, the director
of vehicle safety for Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation. He added that a provincial group called the School Bus Safety Committee has specifically recommended that 15-passenger vans not be used, and said that he doesn’t think many schools use the vehicles. There’s an awareness in the school bus transportation community that these vehicles are not optimal,” he said.

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Sameen Amin
Associate Producer
CBC News: Today
1.416.205.5084
sameen_amin@cbc.ca

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