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Bus Safety: Next Stop, Seat Belts?

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By David Goguen on June 26, 2009 8:05 AM

With a number of recent fatal bus accidents as a tragic backdrop, federal safety regulators are urging motorcoach carriers to consider seat belts on their buses, to help protect passengers.

NTSB Chairman Urges Bus Industry to Add Seat Belts. In a speech before the Greater New Jersey Motorcoach Association earlier this month, Mark Rosenker, Acting Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), discussed four recent fatal bus accidents in which the NTSB played a major investigatory role, and noted that those four accidents resulted in 35 fatalities and 92 passenger ejections.

Rosenker concluded: "These crashes clearly demonstrated that passengers who are thrown from their seating compartments or ejected are the most likely to be injured or killed."

To prevent these passenger ejections, Rosenker urged motorcoach operators to make lap and shoulder belts standard equipment on the buses in their fleets. The NTSB Chairman pointed out that for carriers, having safety belts on buses is the wave of the future (if not the present), and could become a competitive advantage:

    "[It's] something that Australia has required since 1994. It's something that the European Union has required since 1997. It's something the state of Texas will require on all motorcoaches chartered for school trips beginning in 2011. It's something that Greyhound recently announced will be on its newest fleet of motorcoaches."

Bus Accidents by the Numbers. Statistics show that accidents involving buses have been on the rise for years, although deaths from bus accidents have dipped slightly recently, according to data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:

  • In 2007, there were 13,506 bus accidents in the U.S.
  • The number of bus accidents in the U.S. is going up each year (12,507 in 2006, 11,145 in 2005, and 9,172 in 2004).
  • In 2008, there were 227 fatalities caused by bus accidents (down from 258 in 2007).
  • Injuries from bus crashes have held steady in the last two years (16,760 in 2008 and 16,237 in 2007).

Department of Transportation's Bus Safety Action Plan. Consideration of safety belts for bus passengers will no doubt be a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Motorcoach Safety Action Plan, ordered in April by DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, to "outline the additional steps needed to improve motorcoach safety for the millions of Americans who rely on these vehicles for safe transportation."

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