The Department of Transportation has proposed the new rule requiring belts for all passengers on tour buses, contending that the measure could have saved the lives of Arizonians killed in a fatal bus rollover in Utah in 2008. If the charges go into effect, all new buses will have lap-and-shoulder belts within three years.
However, the rules would not apply to the 29,000 buses already on the road; and the proposal falls short of some federal safety recommendations.
On average, 750 million passengers travel on motor coaches each year — more than the total number of airline passengers. Sightseeing trips and cross-country tours are common. Few of these buses have seat belts and accidents can be catastrophic.
The DOT reports nearly 200 passengers have been killed in the last decade, including 9 who were killed on a ski-trip bus that was en route back to the Valley in 2008. More than half of the deaths involve ejections — something safety advocates contend could be largely prevented with the use of seat belts. DOT claims the use of seat belts could reduce fatalities in rollover crashes by 77 percent.
They use the 2008 crash as an example: The bus driver, who was wearing a seat belt, and one passenger remained on the bus. The other 52 passengers were ejected into the snow and darkness. Nine people were killed and 44 were injured.
The National Transportation Safety Board said the driver was going too fast but also said the lack of safety features contributed to the serious and fatal injuries.
“Contributing to the accident’s severity was the lack of an adequate motor coach occupant protection system,” the agency’s report said. This was because of the Department of Transportation’s “delay in developing and promulgating standards to enhance the protection of motor-coach passengers.”
The board has long called for seat belts and other safety measures on buses, including stronger roofs, emergency window exits and shatter-proof glass.
DOT estimates the cost for seat belts would be about $12,900 in each of the 2,000 new coaches sold each year in the United States.
However, medium size coaches, including school buses, would not be affected. Neither would the almost 30,000 motor coaches on the road.