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Lawmakers Consider Seatbelts in Commercial Buses

A contentious debate over bus passenger safety was recently reignited when a string of fatal accidents brought national attention to the question of whether seatbelts should be required in commercial buses. In New York, 15 people were killed when a bus flipped on its side and struck a sign support; slicing through the body of the bus. In New Jersey, 40 people were injured when a tour bus hit a guardrail and crashed into a ditch. Two people were killed, including the bus driver who was ejected through the front window. A week later, 23 Korean tourists were injured when a bus in New Hampshire slid off the road after hitting an ice patch. Most recently, a bus crash in Virginia left four people dead and over 50 seriously injured.

These bus accidents continue to occur in the face of stagnant regulation of commercial buses. Nearly 25 years ago, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) made specific recommendations about adding seatbelts to commercial buses. However, those directives have not led to enforceable rules. Also, bus manufacturers have not found it necessary to incorporate additional safety restraints to protect passengers. Most cite cost issues in declining to add lap belts or shoulder harnesses, while others say that there is insufficient evidence to show that seatbelts would add further protection.

Last summer U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood introduced a new proposal that would require new motor coaches to have lap-shoulder belts. Specifically, FMVSS 208 would be amended to create a new definition for motor coaches and change acceptable standards for Occupant Crash Protection. This would require the installation of lap and shoulder belts at all driver and passenger seating positions in commercial and school buses. Currently six states (Florida, Texas, California, Louisiana, New Jersey and New York) require seat belts on school buses.

In the wake of the recent bus crashes, a senate subcommittee held a hearing to accept testimony on future safety regulations. Lawmakers are also reconsidering the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2009. The bill would have required many of the enhanced proposed by Secretary LaHood, including seat belts at each seating position, advanced glazing to prevent passenger ejection, electronic stability control, and regulations to improve motor coach roof strength.

While the predominant element in bus crashes is driver error, such as driver inattention, additional restraints would go a long way to protect passengers in an accident. Regardless of whether safety enhancements become mandated by law, injured passengers may still seek damages for negligent maintenance of buses, or if specific defects lead to harm. If you have been injured in an accident, contact an experienced attorney to learn about your rights and options.