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Opinion: Time to buckle up on buses

With treacherous winter driving conditions upon us and the holidays over, a group of parents is feeling uneasy about sending their children to school on the school bus — and I am among them. My daughter is currently a first grade student at St. Anne Immersion.

Since the first day my daughter stepped on board the school bus, I felt very uncomfortable and worried constantly about her safety. We always hear how important seatbelts are. Why are they no longer important when driving a bus full of kids?

If anything, they should be more important, as children are smaller and far more vulnerable to injuries than adults. In vehicles that aren’t a school bus, we take special precautions to protect them even more than the average occupant. We use booster seats, specific seating positions such as avoiding the front seat, and safety features such as airbags that are disabled when a passenger of a certain weight sits in a certain seat.

My daughter spends at least an hour and a half on the school bus every day, like many other children across the province. I would like to know that she’s as safe as is possible during this time. Life comes with associated risks, but we should be prepared to take reasonable steps to address these risks, such as providing kids with seatbelts.

I and other parents have formed a group, Manitoba Parents for Mandatory Seatbelts, and are calling on the provincial government to make retrofitting existing school bus seats with three-point seatbelts their priority and are asking other parents and grandparents to do the same.

For the last 35 years, a study from Transport Canada has been used to justify the lack of seatbelts, concluding that school buses are safer without them and that restraints may actually harm children. Manitoba Parents for Mandatory Seatbelts say it is time to revisit how students get to school each day.

I have looked at the conclusions of the study and noticed an immediate elephant in the room: while it addressed front and rear collisions, it completely omitted side impacts and rollovers. Further to that, a “Fifth Estate” investigation from 2018 not only pointed this out, but also uncovered that Transport Canada purposefully hid safety data that clearly shows the hazards of school bus crashes being magnified without the use of seatbelts.

When you hear Transport Canada’s leading safety scientist admit to the “Fifth Estate” that seatbelts would be a great first step in increasing safety, but then quickly adds she is not a policy-maker, you know that it is time to call on our legislators to put our children’s safety first.

According to the “Fifth Estate,” thousands of injuries and numerous deaths could have been prevented by employing seatbelts.

The province of Ontario currently has a bill on the table to address these concerns.

Manitoba Parents for Mandatory Seatbelts would like Manitoba to be the second province to put this forward and urging parents to raise this issue with their school boards and legislators.

Petra McGowan is one of the organizers of Manitoba Parents for Mandatory Seatbelts. You can visit their Facebook group for more information or email [email protected].

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