I drove under that sign again on my way to work today. The electronic one straddling the 401 that warns:
Make the Connection
Seat Belts Save
And just like every other day for the past two weeks, I thought of 10-year-old John Pham. The Brampton boy died of a head injury last month when the school bus transporting his class on a field trip veered off a highway onto the median, hurtling him and many of his classmates out of their seats.
Following John's death, there was a brief surge of public outrage over the lack of seat belts in school buses. But that was so many news cycles ago. Conrad's finances, Virginia Tech and Afghanistan have replaced those headlines.
Similar questions about bus safety were raised three years ago when four-year-old Allyceea Ennis of Thunder Bay was strangled on the school bus taking her to daycare. A coroner's inquest couldn't determine whether it was the result of her clothing getting caught or the actions of another child. But the coroner called for trained adult bus monitors to supervise kindergarten buses and suggested safety restraints for children under 73 pounds. Neither of which have been imposed.
I'm no transportation expert, nor a physicist. But something about a law that forces everyone on the road to buckle up - except kids on buses - seems ludicrous. Any parent who has ever accompanied a bunch of eight-year-olds on a field trip to the zoo can tell you the way kids are ferried around on these old yellow barges (with shock absorbers that feel as if they're past their best-before dates) just doesn't feel safe.
The decibel count alone is enough to provoke a Tylenol 3 headache, so how drivers are supposed to concentrate is anybody's guess. And the most common refrain heard from adults is generally along the lines of "get your bum on the seat!" and "Turn around! Turn around! Face the front!" Which tells you all you need to know about how effective a cushion the padding on the seat in front will actually be if the bus stops suddenly. And imagine the scene among kids bused to school daily - without adults there to remind them every 10 seconds not to bounce on the seats or spin around or steal each other's baseball caps.
Transport Canada says lap belts can do more harm than good. There's also the question of whether kids will put them on properly. And some experts warn they could trap kids in the event of a bus evacuation. The National Coalition for School Bus Safety in the U.S. counters that the transportation companies just don't want to face the high costs of installing belts.
Yet in California, seats are now equipped with mandatory three-point shoulder belts. According to this Star story, the American Academy of Pediatrics support three-point belts. So does the American Medical Association, the injury prevention centre of the Winnipeg Children's Hospital and other medical groups.
We shouldn't let this issue fall by the wayside again in Canada. We need to explore all the options. Because it makes no sense to advise everyone else on the road to "make the connection" while leaving scores of school kids vulnerable.
As Suzanne Tylko, chief of crash-worthiness research at Transport Canada, said: "As long as there are children being injured, we have work to do."
Do you worry about the safety of school buses?