Friday’s fatal bus crash in Ottawa underscores the need for higher safety standards on large buses, according to the Transportation Safety Board (TSB), which on Monday repeated an earlier call to help protect bus passengers.
The accident, which killed three people and injured 23 others, “reinforces the urgent need for Transport Canada to take action on implementing crashworthiness standards for commercial buses,” said TSB’s chair Kathy Fox, citing the 2018 Humboldt bus crash, and an earlier bus-train accident in Ottawa as other examples.
“Buses in this weight category can have different structural features that may not adequately protect the travelling public,” Fox wrote in a statement.
The TSB made the same call after an Ottawa city bus and a VIA Rail train collided in 2013. Following that crash, investigators found there was very little to protect the bus passengers.
That vehicle had “no front bumper, and its front-end frame was not designed to provide impact protection,” the agency wrote in its report.
Most vehicles in Canada are required to provide some level of protection in front-end collisions, rollovers, side-impact crashes and other types of crashes.
But those standards aren’t required for vehicles weighing more than 11,793 kilograms, which covers most public transit buses.
Fox said some work had been done, but Transport Canada should move more urgently to set standards. The TSB is an arm’s-length agency which makes recommendations to Transport Canada, which establishes regulations.
On Monday, family members of those involved in the Humboldt Broncos collision called for the TSB to investigate Friday’s crash alongside the Ottawa police. In April 2018, 16 people were killed when the hockey team’s bus was hit by a tractor-trailer in Saskatchewan.
“We have been disappointed by the missed opportunities to advance road safety and the many lives lost or severely altered because we have failed to learn from past mistakes,” they wrote in an open letter to Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.
The letter argued a TSB investigation would be the only way to ensure broader lessons are learned.
Watson said he believes the police are best suited to handle this case. Further, the TSB isn’t mandated to handle road accidents. It investigated the 2013 crash because it involved a train.
But, Fox said, the TSB would offer assistance to the Ottawa police if needed.
Delphine Denis, a spokesperson for Transport Minister Marc Garneau, said the ministry was looking into the issue of crashworthiness for large vehicles.
“We have completed a review of accident data from urban centres to support the potential development of a standard for crashworthiness. Work is already underway to bolster this review through tests on bus structures to inform next steps,” she said in an email.
“We will continue to work with the Transportation Safety Board to address safety concerns.”
A spokesperson for Transport Canada said it is also working to establish new guidelines on potentially distracting video displays and rules around crash-data recorders, which the TSB also recommended after the 2013 crash.