The deaths of two University of Victoria students on Bamfield Road in 2019 were caused in part by a lack of seatbelt use, according to a coroner’s report.
On Sept. 13, 2019, John Geerdes and Emma Machado, both 18, died after a chartered bus carrying 45 UVic students and two teaching assistants slid off the side of the road and down an incline, landing on its roof. The bus was on its way to the remote Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre on Vancouver Island’s West Coast for a school field trip.
The BC Coroners Service released a report on March 10, 2021, classifying the deaths as accidental. Both Geerdes and Machado died of blunt force head trauma.
The report notes that the chartered Wilson’s Transportation coach bus was travelling south along Bamfield Main at around 9 p.m. when it encountered a vehicle travelling north. The bus steered to the right to allow the approaching vehicle to pass. The wheels of the bus sank into the soft shoulder of the road, causing the bus to roll over down an embankment.
According to the Coroner’s report, both Geerdes and Machado were partially ejected from a window during the roll over and sustained fatal injuries.
At the time of the incident, neither Geerdes or Machado were wearing their seatbelts. The report says that the coach bus had been refitted with approved seatbelts, but the use of these seatbelts was not enforced by the driver or school staff.
“The use of seatbelts on coach buses is not consistently regulated across Canada and Transport Canada is currently reviewing the national laws,” the report notes.
The report ends with a recommendation for ICBC to review its public awareness strategy to promote the use of seatbelts across the province.
Following the fatal crash, UVic requested a review from an independent party, and the resulting report came with a number of recommendations for future school field trips. Any future UVic bus trips to Bamfield will now have the appropriate staff on board to enforce protocols such as the wearing of seatbelts.
Meanwhile, construction on the road between Port Alberni and Bamfield is expected to begin later this year. Plans are to chipseal the unpaved industrial road, making it safer to travel. Costs for the upgrades are being split between the Province of B.C. ($25.7 million) and Huu-ay-aht First Nations ($5 million).