A national road safety advocate wants more public awareness about the importance of wearing a seatbelt on highway buses in the wake of a fatal Christmas Eve crash on B.C.'s Highway 97C.
Ahmed Shalaby, technical director of Safer Roads Canada, says there isn't federal or provincial legislation enforcing the use of seatbelts on buses. In 2020, Transport Canada made it mandatory for all newly-built highway buses to have seatbelts.
Buses are a safe mode of transportation but it could be catastrophic if passengers don't buckle up, Shalaby says.
"The fact that the seatbelts are not even required … doesn't make sense," he told host Shelley Joyce on CBC's Daybreak Kamloops.
"We're struggling to learn the importance of seatbelts on buses."
On Dec. 24, a bus travelling from Kelowna, B.C. towards Merritt went off the road, crossed the median and flipped onto its side. The incident killed four passengers and injured dozens of others.
Shalaby says the crash was another reminder of how important it is to wear seatbelts on highway buses. In 2018, the Humboldt Broncos bus crash killed 16 people; a year later, two University of Victoria students were killed when a bus rolled off a logging road.
"Unrestrained, unbuckled passengers on a bus move around and sometimes [get] ejected from the bus," he said.
"That's critically dangerous, and that's where we see many of those injuries and fatalities."
Const. James Ward of RCMP's B.C. Highway Patrol, who interviewed survivors of the crash, says seatbelts not only save lives but also reduce the level of injuries passengers experience.
"From my understanding [after] talking to the investigators, those who were wearing seatbelts received minor injuries," Ward said.
"The ones that were not wearing seatbelts were tossed around the passenger compartment of the vehicle, and I believe some of them suffered broken bones and lacerations."
The Mountie adds that it would make a huge difference if highway bus drivers remind all passengers to buckle up, and don't operate the vehicle until all seatbelts are worn.
Rachel Long, a Kamloops resident who travelled home from Surrey on Dec. 27, says the driver of the bus she was on conducted these measures.