Each year, commercial buses transport more than 750 million people between cities, for long and short distance tours, field trips, commuter, and entertainment-related trips. In fact, about 65% of these trips are made by children and senior citizens. Buses are generally thought of as a comparatively safe form of travel. However, between 1999 and 2008 there were 54 fatal commercial bus crashes that resulted in the loss of 186 lives. During this time period, an average of 16 deaths occurred annually to passengers on buses in crash and rollover events.
One of the biggest concerns in a bus crash is the possibility of the bus rolling over. This is because passengers on the bus may survive the initial impact but then be ejected from the bus, which can cause serious and fatal injuries. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently announced that an upcoming rule will address this concern and focus on the need for seat belts on buses. The NHTSA hopes to finalize regulations that will require seat belts on buses by the end of this year.
Both Congress and the NHTSA have been debating requiring seat belts on buses since 1977. Recent bus crashes have renewed interest in the need for seat belts on buses. In 2009, a bus overturned and killed seven passengers. Of the 17 total passengers, 15 were fully or partially ejected from the bus. Last year, Congress told the NHTSA to require seat belts on buses as part of the Transportation Reauthorization bill. Although the new rules developed by the NHTSA will not require the current 29,000 commercial buses on U.S. highways to be retrofitted with seat belts, the NHTSA has not ruled out taking that type of action at a later date. The new rule will make seat belts mandatory on new commercial buses and is expected to cost about $25 million annually, which is about $13,000 per bus.
Although the NHTSA has the authority to require buses to be equipped with seat belts, it does not have the authority to require passengers to use them. Just like seat belts in vehicles, only the individual states have the authority to pass laws that would require the use of the seat belts on buses. However, research shows that these new seat belts should be worn, because seat belts on commercial buses can reduce the death risk for passengers in a rollover crash by as much as 77% and save as many as eight lives each year.
Sources: NHTSA.gov, The Detroit News.
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