Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Sunday, January 20, 2019

School buses risk our children’s lives

I’ve had seatbelts in my cars since 1966. They didn’t come with the car; I had to install them myself.

            My friends scoffed. “I’d rather be thrown clear in a crash,” they declared.

            I can only say that if it weren’t for seatbelts, I wouldn’t be writing this column today.

            While seatbelts were still controversial, magazines like Popular Scienceand Popular Mechanics invited readers to conduct their own experiments. Tape an egg securely inside a cardboard box and drop it on the floor; the egg will usually survive. Put a loose egg inside a cardboard box and drop it; the egg will usually break. Drop an unboxed egg, the equivalent of being thrown clear in a crash; the egg will always smash. Always.

            It took another ten years for the first Canadian province to make seatbelts mandatory in new cars.

            Today, we take seatbelts for granted. An estimated 91 per cent of Canadians use seatbelts whenever they enter a car. Only Japan and Sweden rank higher.

            Our grandchildren automatically click their belts as soon as they get into a car. Friends tell us that their grandchildren refuse to let the driver start the vehicle until everyone buckles up. In newer cars, lights flash and disembodied voices issue warnings if occupants fail to use their seatbelts.

            And no one would think of flying without seatbelts -- although airlines still have to instruct passengers how to clip the two halves of a buckle together.


The exception to the rule

            Seatbelts have become the norm.

            Except in buses. Especially school buses.

            Sixteen people died in the crash of the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos hockey team; 13 more suffered injuries, some with lifelong affects.

            The Ottawa bus that smashed into a Transit station last week ago did not have seatbelts. Three people died.

            Another Ottawa bus that collided with a VIA Rail train, five years ago, didn’t have seatbelts either. Six people died; 35 more were injured.

            But Transport Canada still insists that that people in buses are safer without seatbelts.

            Remember “I’d rather be thrown clear…”?

            Transport Canada study bases its defence on a study done in 1984, 35 years ago.

            The study in question assumes that children riding on school buses can be protected by extra padding on seat backs. This is supposed to create a safety zone. Like the loose egg inside a cardboard box, it doesn’t work.

            “Rollovers and side impacts were completely omitted from the study, and those are traditionally the types of accidents that are most lethal,” says Petra McGowan, with the organization Manitoba Parents for Mandatory Seatbelts.

            “I’ve seen simulation studies done by leading safety experts in the United States, and when you watch a rollover or a side impact, the kids are literally tossed like a salad. They’re flying all over the place.”

            The study cited by Transport Canada tested only for head-on collisions – the crash standard at the time. Since then, however, cars have been tested for every possible configuration: side impact, rear impact, front quarter, rollover… Not one of those tests have been replicated on buses.

            And not one of the bus accidents I cited above fits the classic head-on scenario.


50,000 signatures

            Last December, a teenaged boy died in Indiana in a bus carrying 38 eighth-grade students to a Christmas concert was rear-ended by a semi-trailer.  The Humboldt Broncos bus was T-boned. The Ottawa Transit bus crumpled a front corner. Not a classic front-end collision in the lot.

            A school bus driver in Agassiz, B.C., started an online petition to get seatbelts installed in school buses.

            While high seat backs are supposed to protect kids on the bus, Gary Lillico wondered what might happen in a worst-case scenario -- if his bus was hit from the side or rolled.

            Lillico himself was in a serious car accident three years ago. He experienced frontal whiplash and lasting injuries to his knuckles. He may never play golf or be able to work with his hands, but Lillico told the Agassiz newspaper that the biggest impact has been realizing just how dangerous roads can be: “This kind of thing happens in a split second.”

            That’s why watching students -- from kindergarten to grade 12 – board his school bus and take seats without seat belts spurred Lillico to action.

            His online petition \has now soared past 50,000 signatures.

            Will Transport Canada pay attention? It says it will bring in legislation requiring seatbelts on highway buses by 2020. But only on highway buses. 

            Not school buses. Presumably, children are expendable.


Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

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Some of you found the information in last week’s column, about thefts from clothing donation bins, and the occasional deaths resulting from getting trapped in those bins, new and unsettling.

            Betty Zaseybida, for example, “was dumbfounded to read about the charity bins and the thefts that are occurring. I generally donate goods to the charity at their building and will continue to do so.”


Others bent over backwards to avoid condemning the thieves too hastily. 

            Sandy Warren wrote, “Thanks for yet another common sense -- apparently common sense is NOT that common -- article on clothing bins. There are some very unfortunate humans who do use these bins for sleeping in, or even taking clothing, but I have heard of people stealing clothing, etc., from these bins and then re-selling them out of their garages. How do you legislate against stupidity and greed?”


David Gilchrist remembered “a Calgary public meeting 40 years ago about the need to increase welfare payments in the city. One recipient spoke about her desperate need, claiming that she had to choose between medicine and food for her child -- while she puffed on a cigarette. I said I felt she had a third choice: Medicine, Food, or Fags. Boy, did I get told off. It would have been easy at that point to vote against the raise, except that I also knew of those who did their level best to stretch each dollar as far as it would go, but for whom health problems and unexpected unemployment, etc., had created serious financial challenges.

            “How important it is not to tar all with the same brush, no matter how much they appear to be alike. 

            “But you make an excellent point that there are alternatives in our society (more than most in the world), far better than climbing into bins. I suspect that it is not always desperation NOR theft; but sometimes, I suspect that the influence of drugs or alcohol clouds their thinking, and could persuade someone to try it. Better we tackle the cause of poverty than just try to deal with the symptoms.”


The problem is not unique to Canada. Nola Warrick wrote, from Australia, “Our 70-storey building with 500+ apartments has a Lifeline bin to receive donations. We have come home on a couple of occasions to find a guy changing clothes in a corner, with donations to the charity strewn all over the place, some getting thrown into the trash skip which is immediately adjacent.

            “I find it annoying that clothing given to the charity is getting worked over by this nocturnal visitor, generally compromising the quality of the donations.

            “The guests who arrive for our community hot lunch on Saturdays accept thankfully the clothing we put out for them without throwing unwanted items around the floor!


Isabel Gibson took a charitable approach: “Now that the danger has been identified, I expect that organizations have a legal requirement to make the bins safer, even if the people getting trapped are thieves. Liability is a big issue for businesses and for charities, too. And theft shouldn't be a capital offence.”


Steve Roney, on the other hand, thought the thieves themselves bore some responsibility: “This is a sad problem; but the solution is surely not to withdraw the donation boxes. If you do, you are depriving the deserving poor of the clothes they need, for the benefit of the undeserving poor, who are trying to steal from them. How moral is that?

            “Perhaps a sign on the boxes warning people that they steal at their own risk, and that some have died trying to pilfer the boxes. If they still do it, having been clearly informed of the risks, it is their own responsibility. It is impossible to make any product so safe that nobody can find a way to kill themselves with it.”


Elaine Gibbons asked a pertinent question: “Are the ‘do-gooders’ who raise the alarm about these ‘death bins’ and scream to the media that they all should be abandoned, willing to volunteer their time to sort, wash, deliver and work at Thrift Shops across the country to actually help the legitimate homeless?”


Keith Simmonds: “I’ve been thinking a lot about theft lately -- people who survive by stealing from our church and charities and their poorer fellows. 

            “I cannot allow myself to ‘other’ them. There’s too much of that going on already. I do try to find out who they are and, when I do, tell them they cannot come into the church without an escort. I ask for restitution and am fairly implacable about free run of the church without it. 

            “I’ve decided to understand them as people without filters. They are able to tell themselves another story about the stuff they take and the people they take it from -- something to the effect that if we really cared about it we would not leave it out where it can be so easily obtained. Because it is so easily obtained from a place that has more resources available to it, or from a person with more resources than they have, it is okay to take it and make use of it. They either will not or cannot put themselves in the place of the group/person they take from. They do not have either the filter or the capacity. 

            “I find myself struggling more and more with the concept of private property. I think the love of it, or the practice of keeping it to the use of those who have the price of it, might be the root of all evil. Perhaps if all property was freely available for the use of all without the imposition of a commodity price, we might value the good it can do rather than the wealth it represents.”






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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think too many links constitute spam.)

                       Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8

                       Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca

                       Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>

                       I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom

                       Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.

                       Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet


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