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The bill proposed by B.C. Liberal MLA Laurie Throness, seen here on March 22, 2012, would make seat belts in new school buses mandatory in B.C. by 2021 by amending the Motor Vehicle Act.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

A B.C. school bus driver who has been lobbying to have the vehicles fitted with seat belts got a boost for his campaign Monday when his MLA introduced a private member’s bill that would make them mandatory.

Gary Lillico has been driving buses from Harrison Hot Springs for two years after driving a city bus for 27. He said the death of a 17-year-old student in a school bus crash in central Alberta in 2008, as well as Transport Canada data showing numerous injuries and deaths over the past three decades could have been prevented with school bus seat belts, has motivated him to work for change.

He said the issue is on his mind during every trip.

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“I’ve got a couple of little kindergartners, and I barrel down the highway from Agassiz towards Chilliwack,” he said. “They get up, walk down and tug me on the shirt while I’m driving at 100 kilometres an hour. It’s pretty distracting and pretty unsafe.”

Private member’s bills rarely become law. The one proposed by BC Liberal MLA Laurie Throness would make seat belts in new school buses mandatory in B.C. by 2021 by amending the Motor Vehicle Act.

Mr. Throness said the measure would protect passengers from being thrown from the side of the bus if it rolls over in a crash. Current school buses uses a design called compartmentalization, which involves seats with high backs padded with energy-absorbing material that are placed close together to form compartments.

“There’s an argument that compartmentalization that manufacturers install in buses protects [students] from the rear and front crashes,” Mr. Throness said. “But not from side crashes or roll overs.”

According to Transport Canada’s database, approximately 6,700 injuries and 19 deaths involving school buses occurred in Canada between 1999 and 2016.

“We recognize that seat belts on school buses can offer added protection for school-age children, if they’re used and installed properly,” the federal agency notes on its website.

“Making sure all children are properly secured in seat belts is a lot more challenging in a 70-passenger school bus than in a five-passenger car or seven-passenger minivan. This is one of the reasons we allow provinces, territories and school bus operators to decide whether to install seat belts. They are ultimately responsible for school bus operations.”

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In January, federal Transportation Minister Marc Garneau created a task force to examine the issue, but the group has yet to issue it’s report.

Sherry Kristjanson, president of the Association of School Transportation Services of B.C., said her group is awaiting the results of the task force before it takes a position.

Transport Canada declined a request for an interview.

Mr. Throness said he doesn’t anticipate compliance issues among students as most are used to wearing seat belts in other vehicles.

Mr. Thrones said his bill would only focus on new buses and would not require retrofits to existing buses in B.C., citing costs as high as $20,000 a bus that he wants to avoid dropping on manufacturers and school boards.

“It will be a gradual process,” Mr. Throness said. “But I think it will very quickly become the standard.”

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When asked why the BC Liberals did not raise this issue when they held a majority, Mr. Throness said they “have gone with the standard industry line,” and he was only alerted to the issue this summer by Mr. Lillico.

“I’ve got three grandkids and two daughters,” Mr. Lillico said. “And inevitably, not everyone’s kid rides a school bus, but they may go once or twice on field trips.”

“It’s only a matter of time,” he said. Legislation is going to happen, he added, whether it comes from him or someone else.

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