Weekend party bus tragedy shows it’s time for a coroner’s inquest into the industry

Only a coroner's inquest can review all the factors that may have contributed to the death of a 23-year-old Saturday who fell from a party bus -- and make recommendations for change.

Only a coroner’s inquest can review all the factors that may have contributed to the death of a 23-year-old who fell from a party bus.

Only a coroner’s inquest into all the factors that led to the tragic death of a 23-year-old who fell from a party bus last weekend will tell us whether or not this murky industry is properly regulated.

Only after a string of deaths and worrisome incidents — and province-wide political pressure that included calls for action from the Union of BC Municipalities and the BC Police Chief’s Association — did Transportation Minister Todd Stone take steps to impose some regulations last year.

But the latest death indicates he did not go far enough. The subject is too important for a partisan political debate.

What’s needed is a public process that considers all the contributing factors. Here’s what I said in a letter yesterday to provincial coroner Lisa LaPointe:

As you are aware, regulation of this sector is quite recent. Before last year’s tightening of the rules by the Ministry of Transportation, the industry had been at the centre of a number of controversies regarding accidental deaths, especially of teenagers.

This latest tragedy raises legitimate questions as to whether provincial rules go far enough to provide appropriate levels of safety. In particular, it is reasonable to ask some of the following questions:

  • Do the current measures to prohibit alcohol consumption on these vehicles provide sufficient protection? Should there be chaperones required, as is the case in other jurisdictions?
  • Is driver training sufficient to ensure appropriate responses in the event of injury or illness due to inebriation or other causes?
  • Is the conversion of the buses to a “party” set-up being done in a way that ensure the vehicles are capable of safe operation under all conditions? Should driver separation from passengers be required? Are standards appropriate for emergency exits and other safety aspects?

In my view, these issues all fit the criteria for a full inquest, because they address community concern about a death, could assist in finding information about the circumstances and draw attention to causes, direct or indirect, that could be prevented in future.