Two days after this blog (and other media) reported that the U.S. government has lagged for 45 years in requiring seat belts on large buses, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced it will require all large new buses to have seat belts, as Joan Lowy writes for the Associated Press in an article appearing on NBC News. The NHTSA issued a federal rule on Wednesday saying that starting in November 2016, new tour buses that provide service between cities must have three-point lap-shoulder belts, Lowy writes. The rule does not apply to school buses or city transit buses, she notes.
The rule will not require the 29,000 buses already on the roads to be retrofitted with the belts because of the high cost of doing so, writes David Shepardson for The Detroit News. Congress had authorized the NHTSA to study the possibility, he notes. Adding seat belts to existing buses would cost about $40,000 per bus, as compared with about $13,000 for new buses, Lowy writes.
In addition, the new rule will not require seat belts on new public transit buses with “request-a-stop” systems, Shepardson writes. Also exempted are prison buses and airport shuttle buses that transport people to parking lots or rental car outlets, he writes.
Lowy quotes NHTSA Administrator David Strickland on the new rule: “Adding seat belts to motorcoaches increases safety for all passengers and drivers, especially in the event of a rollover crash.” The American Bus Association (ABA) calls the new rule “an important step,” Lowy notes, adding that many new buses already come with seat belts. She reports that the ABA worked with government regulators “to ensure that sufficient research and testing went into crafting the new seat belt standard released today.” Shepardson points out that, despite the benefits of the new rule, “NHTSA can’t force passengers to wear belts — only states can mandate belt use.”
Motor coach travel remains one of the safest ways to travel, carrying 750 million passengers annually in the United States and Canada and traveling 1.8 billion miles. On average, 21 people die in motor coach crashes each year. Between 2000 and 2009, there were 87 fatal bus crashes resulting in 209 deaths.
NHTSA said the cost of requiring belts will be about $7 million annually — including slightly higher fuel costs because of the weight of belts — and will save an estimated two to nine lives per year and prevent several hundred injuries. NHTSA said if the costs were applied to all trips, it would add one cent per ticket.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Motorcoach Safety Action Plan, the NHTSA is also “developing objective test procedures, performance metrics, and costs and benefits information for forward collision warning and automatic braking systems” and lane departure warning systems on large buses.