School Bus Defender Misses the Point

By Ted Mitchell
Published April 25, 2007

Last week I wrote a simple letter to the editor of the Hamilton Spectator about school buses. It essentially said that discussing seatbelts on buses misses the boat - they have no benefit.

I listed three more important factors about bus safety - excessive need for busing, obsolete frame/suspension technology unsuitable for freeway use and diesel engine emissions.

Then out of the blue this rant response appears in the Spec letters page with the requisite ad hominem attacks and an expert opinion that bus design is very safe and their diesel engines are clean and there are other more important causes of crashes.

Well, duh.

There's not getting it. Then there's not getting it and writing a resentful letter to the paper. And then there's really not getting it such that you can't identify that someone else didn't get it and then you proudly publish said letter in a box at the top of the letters section.

So to answer the rant:

  1. Clearly, less busing = less risk. Especially less fat kids and less future heart attacks.

  2. You don't have to be an engineer or mechanic to see that there is a difference between a coach and a school bus at 120 km/h. One is smooth, the other is bouncing psychotically. That's because of leaf springs, unadjustable shocks, high unsprung weight...

    Oh, forget it. According to Bob Brown, "It's clear he knows nothing about heavy-duty suspension systems". You don't need to. Watch the back end of the damned bus bouncing around and ask yourself if this is a good thing for traction and control.

  3. Diesel exhaust is a large contributor to particulate pollution (PM) even in areas like Hamilton with heavy industry. These pie charts do not correct for the fact that vehicle tailpipes are right beside your nose, while the other sources are far away.

    There are no current clean diesels in school buses or anything else. If you doubt this, follow a school bus on your bike for ten minutes as close as you can get to the exhaust pipe, which is at nose level unlike any other large bus or truck. Try not to vomit.

  4. Six children died in school bus crashes in a ten year period. Compare with roughly 3000 fatalities yearly in Canada, typically 100 in the 5-14 age group. So of course there are more important things like the distraction of cell phones and eating. (Then again, people you see driving and eating are not weaving all over the road oblivious to their surroundings like the cell phone users.)

People like Mr. Brown can be forgiven for missing the boat and defending obsolete engineering. But the Spec?

I thought my letter was pretty clear and pretty benign. Read the response: bizarre and angry. The Spec put it right on top, totally unconcerned with either the irrelevance or the mean-spirited content.

Could the Spec be publishing it for spite? What do you think?

Ted Mitchell is a Hamilton resident, emergency physician and sometimes agitator who recently completed a BEng at McMaster University. He is fascinated by aspects of our culture that are harmful, but avoid serious public discussion.


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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted April 25, 2007 at 12:18:19

I forgot to reference this report on school buses and air quality. THe full report is nearly 5MB, 71 pages. It's quite technical.

What is relevent is a requirement to reduce PM emissions by a factor of about 10 between 2006 and 2007 buses. The advanced filters necessary for that currently run close to $10K, so not surprisingly a large bunch of old-tech school buses were grabbed up last year by value-minded school boards.

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By Barbara (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2007 at 12:59:44

Get over yourself! The Spectator publishes letters that sell papers. A rant will generate more comments and keep discussions going.

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By rantella (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2007 at 13:50:28

So here's my question--should the Speculator publish a letter that's factually wrong just because it's a sample of what readers think or because it will 'generate more comments'? I guess I'm asking, What's the standard for publishing stuff? Even though it's a letter and not an article, it should still be accurate in it's facts even if it makes controversial conclusions from them. THAT pisses me off......but I'm not going to rant about it :-))

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By Kevin (registered) | Posted April 25, 2007 at 16:33:33

Do you really think that the Newspaper prints things to spite you personally? That's a bit narcissistic.

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By A Robot (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2007 at 19:22:03

Your letter, not the reply from Mr. Brown, was the kind of rant they look for when publishing letters. You may not want to sign future rants with MD, lest you defame the profession any further.

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By Al Rathbone (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2007 at 22:58:58

The easiest way to reduce Busing is to increase desnsity. As families have less children, areas have to have more families in order to fill the same schools.

The reason for super schools (Not the JK-8 ones which are another issue entirely) is because local schools are not feasible in many low density areas these days.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 26, 2007 at 09:18:56

I agree that the second letter was a bit odd.. both letters basically say "there are bigger problems to worry about than seat belts", they just focus on different "bigger problems". Wouldn't the second letter make more sense (and be more constructive) if it said "I agree that the lack of seatbelts is a very minor problem compared to others. We'd be better off curbing driver cellphone use than adding seatbelts to school buses".

Besides that, diesel engines may be cleaner now than 50 years ago but they certainly aren't cleaner than walking...

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted April 26, 2007 at 15:38:35

In writing a letter, I will append MD when the issue is relevant to public health. I will not append it for the weight of "credentialing", in fact that practice is vain.

Some of these issues are political and most doctors avoid such controversy like the plague. That avoids this professional duty:

"Family physicians have the responsibility to advocate public policy that promotes their patients’ health."

Much of the general public is very suspicious of doctors getting political. A lot of societal problems arise from overspecialization, and family docs, being generalists by vocation and often by nature, are in an excellent position to identify these problems.

As for the Spec, it would be helpful for them to adopt a policy of returning any letters for editing which contain anything remotely personally critical, as this is a socially divisive weapon which even more harmfully serves to avoid or demote the discussion of real issues.

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