Buckle Up for Broncos – Wear a Green Jersey and then Become “that” Parent

By all means, wear Green for the Broncos this weekend. But do something else too please – buckle up!

I am talking about all those sports road trips in tour buses. Seriously, just put on your seatbelt. I’m talking to you – parents. Then have your child put hers on too.

Here in Fort McMurray, we don’t need to wait for the new 2020 legislation requiring highway coaches to install belts. They all have them. Yet, a year after the horrific Bronco’s crash, and months after Humboldt Bronco mother, Tricia Wack’s emotional letter pleading for better seatbelt laws, not much has changed when our teams travel the highways.

The tour buses here in town all have shoulder harness seatbelts because the oil sands sites REQUIRE that all their employees wear them on the 50 km commute out Highway 63 and back. This same fleet is the one our teams hire for out-of-town tournaments.

Yet, we knowingly let our kids ride with their sports team 500 km down that same highway to Edmonton, many weekends a year, without asking our coaches and managers and parent chaperones to buckle up themselves and then have our kids do the same.

boy-car-child-1266014
Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Why?

I don’t know. I wore my seatbelt religiously for ten years commuting back and forth to site. It just made sense. I could fall asleep on the bus and not worry about a roll-over or the bus sliding off the road.

In fact, one of the site buses left a slippery Supertest hill one evening and slid into the ditch. Nine employees were hurt, but luckily, no one died.

Which nine people were hurt? You guessed it. The nine not wearing their seatbelts. Luckily, due to a tight safety culture, most of the other 30 passengers who wore their seatbelts were not hurt. The exceptions were the unlucky few struck by folks who hadn’t buckled up.

On a recent sports team trip, on a Diversified bus, I was that parent who came back down the aisle – after every single stop – and asked the kids to buckle up – over and over again. Then I returned to my seat to do up mine.

Why weren’t they just buckling up automatically? I think because the culture of the road trips is such that they are not worn.

I was only supported by a couple of other parents – who were also belted in. Many other parents didn’t buckle the whole trip.

I was beginning to despair of the whole thing. We drove 20 hours on the highway in total. There were multiple stops and the kids got increasingly lax about the belts as time wore on. I kept walking the aisles to make the reminders. And I would do it all again.

But what I really wish is that we could change the culture of the sports leagues so this isn’t necessary.

I have had casual discussions with a few of my kids’ organizations to try to understand the issue. So far, I’ve only found one that has a policy and enforces it – my daughter’s elementary school. On choir trips to Edmonton, all the kids are buckled in. Why? The school has a policy about out-of-town travel and the music teacher enforces it. It was awesome to see!

However, on almost every other out-of-town event, the incidence of kids buckling up seems to be left to chance – perhaps there’s a chaperone on board to “speak up to safety”, perhaps not. The kids often aren’t wearing seatbelts. How do I know? I ask my kids.

I admit I have a huge advantage here – at site we were not only trained to do safety interventions but mandated that we share our intervention at each and every morning operations meeting.

It becomes a habit and it becomes easier. I wish all our bus chaperones could have this training.

During my casual discussion with kids and parents on this issue over the past couple of years, I heard a lot of excuses. They are all hogwash. These are common:

Large buses are inherently safer than a car. Yes, sure, maybe it would fare better in a head-on collision with say, a pick-up truck. But if the bus slides off the road for any reason – everyone not buckled becomes a projectile. If the bus rolls, people can end up flying out of the vehicle.

We need to be able to walk around on a long road trip. Sure, great, go ahead, of course you do! But if you are buckled 90% of the time, you mitigate 90% of the risk.

The seatbelts aren’t comfortable Most of our Diversified buses have shoulder belts. We wear the same ones in cars. Besides, having a broken leg or arm is also uncomfortable too, I warrant.

It’s not law. Actually, in fact, it is law here in Alberta. The law here states that if a vehicle HAS a seatbelt, you must wear it. If the passenger is under 16, the driver is responsible to insure it’s on.

No one else is wearing it. Your mom had a great cliché for this one: “If everyone else was jumping off a cliff…”

If you are wearing a seatbelt, it takes longer to exit a burning vehicle! Well, good point except that it’s usually a lot faster to exit a burning vehicle if you are actually, um, conscious.

Speaking up is hard. I get it. However, over and above safety, ask the organization governing board if the league insurance covers the team if seatbelts aren’t worn on out-of-town trips? And what about those corporate bus grants – do they come with an implicit understanding that basic safety legislation will be followed?

Now, my kids are absolutely horrified that I’m that parent that embarrasses them in front of their teammates when I walk the aisles spewing “buckle up”. I’m ok with that. I don’t need their approval or that of the other adults on the bus. Hell, I’m 51 now – the way I see it, I’m way beyond trying to be cool. I’m just trying to keep them safe. That’s my job.

Starting this week – don your green jersey, and then please, become that parent.

Has your organization or school enacted policies or training that significantly increased the percentage of passengers wearing seatbelts in coach buses?   I’d love to hear about it – share in the blog comments or on facebook!

Alisa Caswell has a degree in chemical engineering. She spent twenty years working in the oil and gas industry, including roles in operations and energy conservation. She previously held the position of Chair – Oil Sands, Canadian Industry Program for Energy Conservation (CIPEC). She lives in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Read other articles at “Confessions of a Dandelion Anarchist” or follow her on facebook.