In 1968 a drunk driver on a California Highway crashed into a bus carrying passengers to Las Vegas, Nev., killing 19 people. Investigators of that horrific crash concluded that the lack of seatbelts contributed to the high death toll. But 45 years later safety advocates are still waiting for the government to act on seatbelts and other safety measures to protect bus passengers.
In the years since the 1968 bus crash in California, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has repeatedly called for seatbelts or other means to keep passengers in their seat during crashes involving large buses used for tourist, charter, and inner city passenger service. About half of all such motor coach fatalities are the result of rollovers, and about 70 percent of those killed in rollover accidents are ejected from the bus.
The NTSB has repeatedly recommended stronger windows that do not pop out from the force of a collision and help keep passengers from being ejected, and roofs that withstand crushing. Those recommendations are nearly as old as seatbelt recommendations. No requirements have been put in place, even though all have long been standard safety features in automobiles in the United States and standard safety features for buses in Europe and Australia.
Through the years hundreds of motor coach passengers have died and even more have been injured, many severely, since the NTSB made its initial recommendations. Victims have included college baseball players in Atlanta, Vietnamese church goers in Texas, and members of a high school girls soccer teams on the way to a playoff match. In 2009, the NTSB said government inaction was partly responsible for the severity of injuries in a rollover crash in Utah that killed nine skiers and injured 43.
Ray LaHood, who was Transportation Secretary at the time, and perhaps one of the worst of all time, promised the department would act to improve motor coach safety, including requiring seatbelts. Even today, that has still not happened. Last year, Congress wrapped bus safety improvements into a larger transportation bill, which has been signed into law. However, the regulation requiring seatbelts on new buses is still under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Beginning in November of 2016, all new motor coaches and some other large buses must be equipped by manufacturers with 3-point lap shoulder belts, however, this rule does not apply to school buses or city transit buses. The other regulations on windows and roofs are still under review and have not been implemented at this time.
Many safety advocates compare buses to commercial airlines, which have even fewer deaths and injuries, but still require passengers to buckle up. The nation’s fleet of 29,000 commercial buses transports more than 7 million passengers a year, which is roughly the equivalent to the U.S. airline industry.
Commercial bus operators have fought the use of seatbelts for decades, but their opposition began to weaken after several high-profile bus crashes in the mid-2000s. The bus industry opposes requiring the existing buses to be retro-fitted with seatbelts. Safety advocates and the general public are at a loss as to why it took 48 years for such a safety measure to be implemented in the U.S. That’s especially true when you consider that seat belts have been utilized implemented in Europe and Australia since the mid-1990s. If you need more information on this subject, contact Mike Crow, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury/Products Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Mike.Crow@beasleyallen.com.
Sources: Associated Press, USA Today and Business News
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