Manitoba parents group pushing for mandatory seatbelts on school buses

A group of Manitoba parents wants the province to consider making seat belts mandatory on school buses.

A rural Manitoba mom, Petra McGowan, is spearheading the effort.

The mother of a six-year-old girl who spends about an hour and a half each day bussing between home and school in St. Anne, Man. said she wasn’t prepared to send her daughter on a bus without belts.

“I come from Europe, where the majority of school buses are equipped with seatbelts, so it was a little bit of a rude surprise to see that there were none.

“She was a bit confused as well,” said McGowan, “because since she was a little child, we were drilling her in seatbelt safety and she always has to buckle up when she goes into a car.”

McGowan said she began researching, reviewing a 1984 Transport Canada study often cited as evidence school buses are safer without seatbelts and investigations from the documentary program The Fifth Estate. What she learned led her to conclude the current approach is flawed, and she says views are changing.

“Seeing that in Ontario, the first bill to activate school buses with mandatory seatbelts was introduced, I wanted to see my province be the second leading province on the topic.”

She decided to take action, founding a group called Manitoba Parents for Mandatory Seatbelts.

McGowan said they created a Facebook group earlier this week and since then she has heard from parents who share her concerns.

“They’re glad I’m taking it on. Lots of them are saying they were always wondering about this, but they were sort of shut down by the status quo – that Transport Canada deems it safe. And now when they see more of the details, they’re getting excited that such initiative is taking place in the province.”

In October, the federal transport minister gave orders to his department to review data on school bus safety and seatbelts. The following month, former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne introduced a private member’s bill in Ontario with the hope of mandating seatbelts in school buses there.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler said they’re aware of the push in Manitoba.

“The Minister’s office did receive correspondence from the individual in question very recently, and will be responding in short order. The federal government is reviewing this matter and we await their findings,” said the spokesperson in an email.

Erika Miller with CAA Manitoba said it’s reviewing the issue and believes legislators should too.

In a statement, she said, “CAA encourages the appropriate authorities to address the issue of whether seatbelts on school buses should be made mandatory. As a leader in road safety issues and owner of the CAA School Safety Patrol program, CAA trains the program based on standards as set by government authorities.”

McGowan says if the current push does lead to change in Manitoba, it will bring parents like her peace of mind.

“I worry, I clearly worry. The bus is five minutes late and I’m literally freaking out. We all love our children, we want the best for them, and the fact that their safety is being overlooked does rub me the wrong way as a mother.”