Seatbelt laws following Broncos tragedy could have come sooner

Published: July 31, 2018

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The federal government says it will be mandatory for highway buses to have seatbelts from 2020, but a father of a teen killed in the Humboldt Broncos tragedy is questioning why the change will take so long.

In a new report, The Canadian Press says it obtained documents through the Access to Information Act revealing Transport Canada considered bringing in the changes sooner. The April 6 collision involved a bus and truck. The bus was carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team and 16 people lost their lives, while a further 13 were injured.

Ottawa initially acted quickly and sought to tighten seatbelt laws, mirroring a proposal the government had made in 2017. However, the regulation was not announced until this month and will not be implemented under Sept. 1, 2020. For one parent of a victim, Ottawa is dragging its feet.

“Why wouldn’t they bring it in sooner rather than later?” said Russell Herold, whose 16-year-old son Adam was the youngest to die in the collision. “If it would have saved one life, does that not benefit everyone?”

According to the documents discovered by The Canadian Press, Transport Canada was considering passing seatbelt laws more quickly in the immediate wake of the crash.

“We’re taking a hard look at the coming-into-force date, and as soon as we can, we’ll provide a specific (question-and-answer document) on the risks/implications of accelerating this date,” Michael DeJong, director general of motor vehicle safety, wrote in an email dated April 8.

Among the potential options for reducing the wait for the law to come into effect was moving it up by a year to 2019. However, ultimately Transport Canada kept the 2020 date. The organization says the time is necessary to give bus companies room to make changes to vehicles.

“Bus manufacturers have expressed support for the proposed regulations, but have sought adequate lead time for implementation,” bureaucrats wrote in the document.

“You’d have to think seatbelts would have done something. We’ve been told by the coroner that everyone was ejected from the bus,” said Herold.

“If you’re seatbelted in and your seat remains in the bus, you’re in a better situation than flying out onto the hard, frozen ground.”