EDMONTON – Edmonton’s public school district has plans in place to stop using the type of van that has been called “a death trap on wheels” and banned for school use in the United States. Seven basketball players and a teacher were killed in the same type of 15-passenger van in a highway crash in New Brunswick on the weekend. The Safety Forum, a Washington D.C.-based, consumer consulting group, calls the vehicle “a trap merely waiting an opportunity to spring on unwary passengers and drivers.”The 1997 Ford Club Wagon is one of a handful of 15-passenger van models that the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued four consumer safety advisories about between 2000 and 2005, more than for any other vehicle type. The Edmonton district decided in December to ban schools from transporting students in 15-passenger vans effective Sept. 1, 2008, spokeswoman Jane Farrell said Monday.
In the months leading up to the outright ban, school officials have put in place restrictions for school use. A memo to staff says that 15-passenger vans owned by the school district must only be used within Edmonton. Cargo must not be transported using roof racks, the memo says.
In 2005, Edmonton public advised its schools to “severely curtail” their use of 15-passenger vans.
“We encourage schools to use bus carriers for the transport of students to all events, particularly those that entail highway driving,” a memo at the time said.
City schools that still found a need to use the big vans were told then to limit the number of passengers to 12; not to use the back seats; and not to exceed 90 kilometres per hour. Drivers were told not to use the overhead rack or back seat to haul luggage and equipment, and not to tow trailers.
U.S. studies have shown the vans are particularly susceptible to rollovers when fully loaded and travelling at highway speeds.
The New Brunswick crash was not a rollover.
In light of the accident, Edmonton’s Catholic school district will review its use of 15-passenger vans at a meeting of administrators on Thursday, spokeswoman Lori Nagy said.
The district will also review what field-trip leaders should do when they encounter weather conditions that could be hazardous for driving, she said.
Several city Catholic high schools are sending cards of condolence to Bathurst high school.
Transport Canada, which regulates the type of vehicles that can be sold in Canada and issues safety warnings on vehicle defects, has no restrictions on the importation or sale of 15-passenger vans in this country, a spokeswoman said Monday.
Transport Canada has not issued safety advisories about 15-passenger vans. However, following a letter sent to the government from the Canadian Standards Association this summer, the department has launched a review of the vans to decide if they should be subject to the same, stricter safety requirements as regular school buses.
While 15-passenger vans are banned from school use in a few provinces such as Nova Scotia, in most provinces, including New Brunswick, there are no similar restrictions.
“While driving 15-passenger vans is not always inherently dangerous, there are some situations that can result in erratic vehicle response that an inexperienced driver might not be able to control, and which could result in a collision or rollover,” says a safety information website maintained by the department of earth sciences at the University of Alberta.