July 28, 2009
FREDERICTON (CNB) - A majority of the recommendations from the coroner's inquest into the Jan. 12, 2008, van crash in Bathurst have been adopted by government, Education Minister Roland Haché announced today.
In May, the coroner's inquest into the deaths of seven students on the Bathurst High School basketball team, and their coach's wife, put forward a list of 24 recommendations related to student travel to sports activities.
After the inquest, government held a stakeholders' forum to determine the safest and most viable method of transportation. Representatives from the sports community, schools, school districts and other groups participated to discuss the impact that the recommendations would have on extracurricular travel for student activities.
"Our priority was to minimize the risk of travel for students, while at the same time not restricting travel in a way that prevents students from participating in extra-curricular activities," said Education Minister Roland Haché. "We believe that we've struck that balance in implementing these new safety measures."
Greater accountability for compliance on transportation policies, maintenance and inspection audits, and better co-ordination with extracurricular stakeholders on the scheduling of sports activities are among the improvements. Earlier this year, government also implemented a new, stricter, extracurricular travel policy.
In addition, the registrar of motor vehicles in the Department of Public Safety will advise all licensees in the province that all 15-passenger vans will be required to be inspected every six months. The Motor Vehicle Branch will consult with its partners through the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA) on the issue of tire tread depth to ensure that the appropriate national standard is in place.
"Highway safety remains a priority for government, and we want to do everything we can to minimize the risk for drivers and passengers," said John W. Foran, minister of public safety and solicitor general.
The New Brunswick Interscholastic Athletics Association (NBIAA) is supportive of the government's position.
"We are pleased with the new measures that will better ensure safe travel while still making extracurricular activities affordable and accessible to students," said Douglas Prescott, NBIAA president. "In doing our part, the NBIAA is forming a committee to review the current formats used by high schools and conferences to arrive at league schedules for winter sports. Once this information has been collected and reviewed, we will meet to determine the most effective means for arriving at league schedules."
Two of the recommendations that will not be enforced were to use only yellow school buses or multi-functional activity buses (MFABs); and the use of only certified Class 2 yellow school bus drivers for student travel.
"School groups and sports teams expressed concerns with the lack of availability of yellow buses and Class 2 drivers, and the negative impact that this would have on their ability to have viable leagues, as well as the high cost that would be associated with these two recommendations," said Haché. "As such, our policy will ensure that volunteer drivers have the appropriate licence - which could be a Class 2 to a Class 5, depending on the type of vehicle that they are driving."
However, in addition, a completion of a mandatory driver safety program is now required prior to transporting students to extracurricular activities. The free driver safety courses will be available beginning in August.
The ban on 15-passenger vans, implemented after the crash, will remain.
In response to the coroner's recommendations, Transportation Minister Denis Landry confirmed that his department undertook repairs to the shoulder of the road on May 25 and May 27, 2009. Work was completed to 0.6 km on both sides of the highway. Further improvements are being carried out on Route 8 toward Route 11.
"An additional 14 km of shoulder processing is scheduled to be completed during August along Route 8 from Bass River to Bathurst as part of a tender awarded by my department to St. Isidore Asphalte Ltée," said Landry.
Landry reiterated that the Department of Transportation has taken responsibility for performing the maintenance on school-operated vehicles to ensure they meet a consistent standard across the province, as announced as part of the new policies about extra-curricular transportation earlier this year.
A complete list of the recommendations and those accepted by the provincial government are online.
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Kilfoil, communications, Department of Education, 506-470-3178; Doug Prescott, president, NBIAA, 506-856-3735.