Wednesday , January 20 2021

Humboldt Broncos parent, others applaud changes to the bus crash intersection

The Saskatchewan government is promising to install rumble strips, lights, signs and road markers at the site where the Humboldt Broncos bus collided with a transport truck.

"This is a good thing," said Scott Thomas, whose son, Evan was one of 16 people killed in the crash.

The changes planned for the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 also include the removal of trees, limiting nearby access roads, and the relocation of the Broncos memorial roadside. The total estimated cost is several hundred thousand dollars.

The announcement came during the release of an independent report on the collision, which also left 13 people injured.

Broncos President Jamie Brockman said he was really pleased with the recommendations.

"Be honest, I was not expecting that there would be that much," he said.

"The fact that there is an indication of how important something was going to happen is to improve and prevent anything like this from happening again."

Brockman said he was particularly happy to see the rumble strips as a suggested improvement.

Victims' families, experts and others have been demanding improvements to the intersection since the tragedy in April.

Action has been taken on a number of other fronts. Last week, Saskatchewan Government Insurance Minister Joe Hargrave cited the Broncos crash in announcing mandatory training for semi drivers. Although Hargrave was criticized for exempting farmers from the new rules – coming in March – most called it a positive first step.

The driver of the semi was charged with 16 counts of dangerous driving causes death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. He has not yet entered a plea. His next appearance is scheduled for Tuesday.

A memorial made of hockey sticks, crosses and Canadian flags is seen at the crash site. (Jonathan Hayward / Canadian Press)

When highway fatalities occur, the government typically conducts an internal traffic review. After considering "the seriousness of this collision and the significant attention paid to it," the Ministry of Justice commissioned McElhanney Consulting Services Ltd. to handle things, according to a government news release.

McElhanney conducted interviews, created a 3D scan of the site, and analyzed historical traffic data.

The intersection has had fewer crashes than average. There have been only six incidents there in the past 28 years. The collision rate was less than one per million vehicles that passed through.

"No significant collision trends were identified at the intersection," said the report.

That said, there are ways to make the intersection safer, the report said. The government said it would implement every recommendation. They include:

  • Better signage ($ 15,000).
  • "Stop Ahead" pavement markings ($ 1,500).
  • Tree removal from private property (cost unclear).
  • New access road for relocated memorial (unclear cost).
  • Light standards ($ 4,000).
  • Highway 335 rumble strips ($ 300,000).
  • Widen shoulders ($ 400,000 / kilometers).

The study also looked at the "human factors" affecting safety at the intersection.

It is in a relatively remote part of northeast Saskatchewan. Drivers may be unusually tired after traveling for long periods to reach that point, it said.

"Higher levels of fatigue can result in reduced alertness and increase reaction time, thus increasing the potential for errors or in some cases resulting in motorists falling asleep at the wheel," it states.

Motorists traveling Highway 335 could assume it's an uncontrolled intersection and "overlook" the stop sign. It is the only major intersection for more than 20 kilometers in either direction.

The alignment of trees, power poles and the horizon could lead to a "tunnel vision" for drivers.

"The illusion was even more pronounced during wet and / or sun glare conditions," said the report.

Thomas said the report was hard to read, but the changes are "a step in the right direction." He said it's good to know the intersection may be safer for all of the motorists in the future.

Thomas said changes are required on many fronts, from seatbelts to buses to training for semi drivers. He added that it is important to improve standards for all intersections in the province.

"This intersection is one of those things that went wrong," Thomas said. "Things that should have been obvious are finally being recognized."

Humboldt tow truck driver Kurt Horudko cleaned up the debris 20 years ago following the only other fatality at that intersection. He said improvements to any roadway are a good thing, but agreed with Thomas that it's just one of many elements.

"You can put all the safety stuff in the world, but if there are other factors like guys being tired, it's not going to help nothing," said Horudko.

"Down the road there's another intersection, then another, then another."

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