Gary Lillico drives dozens of kids on his school bus over an old, narrow bridge crossing British Columbia’s Fraser River. Everyday, he wishes his young passengers were wearing seatbelts.
It’s not uncommon for kindergarteners to walk up to Lillico while he’s at the wheel and tug on his sleeve, or switch seats to get a good look at an eagle’s nest, he said. “That kind of stuff, distraction and safety, really irks me.”
Last fall, Lillico started a petition imploring the federal government to mandate all school buses have seatbelts. The petition now has more than 94,000 signatures.
“This is where the government should step up — they’re pretty good at spending money and it’s not always well spent,” said Lillico, who lives in Harrison Hot Springs and drives as many as 70 elementary and high school students to and from school, along stretches of rural highway. He also has three young grandsons and spent 12 years driving a coach bus.
“How could this not be a good expenditure? Kids are the most precious cargo Canada transports.”
Across the country and in most American states, school buses don’t have seatbelts, despite a 2010 Transport Canada study that found school buses had failed safety tests. A CBC investigation last October found seatbelts could have prevented thousands of injuries in North America in the past three decades.
Just last week, a school bus rolled over in Durham Region, east of Toronto, according to Ontario Provincial Police. Two students and the driver were transported to hospital with minor injuries. The driver was charged with careless driving and failing to properly wear a seatbelt.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau formed a task force earlier this year and is considering pilot projects to introduce seatbelts on school buses and developing guidelines to ensure they’re worn properly, his office told HuffPost Canada. Provincial governments are taking part in the task force, as they will be required to retrofit existing buses.
“The task force is actively looking at vehicle standards and operations, both inside and outside the bus, with an emphasis on seatbelts,” said Transport Canada spokesperson Marie-Anyk Cote. “This ongoing work involves expanding our evidence base, such as looking at fleet composition across Canada.”
Eight U.S. states have passed legislation requiring seatbelts be installed on buses, including New Jersey, Florida and California.
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Lillico said he’d like to see the government move faster, as it’s “a no brainer,” especially after the Humboldt Broncos collision in rural Saskatchewan last year, in which 16 junior hockey players were killed and 13 other people were injured.
Members of the Humboldt community have signed his petition, said Lillico.
“Why do we put a price tag on a child’s head, and ask if it’s worth spending money on seatbelts on school buses?” he asked.
Lillico is finalizing a House of Commons e-petition, and will post it on his current petition’s page. He hopes with enough signatures, it will spur MPs to action.