Auto accidents involving motorcoaches are rare, but they often result in serious injuries or fatalities because older buses are not required to have seatbelts. In the case of a roll-over crash, passengers can be ejected from the bus, causing death or serious injury.

Colorado boasts of some 28 ski areas and resorts and some of those areas will open soon. That means that a lot of people will be coming into the state via private vehicle, plane and, for some, tour buses. If there is one area of traffic safety that we as a country and state have not improved, it’s motorcoach safety. Considering that a fully loaded bus can carry more than 50 people, safety should be a major focus, but sadly, it’s not.

Occupant Ejection a Risk in Auto Accidents Involving Motorcoaches

A national highway safety advocacy organization has been tracking issues involving motorcoaches, which are the large buses that are typically rented by groups or used for long-haul trips. Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety (AHAS) notes that in the past five years, more than 600 million motorcoach trips have been taken, some on short jaunts or longer trips, such as to one of our state’s ski resorts. It probably comes as no surprise that there are two distinct groups that make up a majority of passengers on such buses: students and seniors. Because so many people access these buses, AHAS started researching auto accidents involving motorcoaches, and since 1990, the organization notes that:

  • There have been more than 200 crashes and fires involving motorcoaches
  • Nearly 370 riders have been killed in these accidents
  • More than 3,740 others have been injured
  • The No. 1 reason for fatalities is ejection from the motorcoach, usually after the bus rolls over.

One of the most recent fatal accidents occurred in late 2016, when 13 people died in California after the bus they were riding crashed into a truck on the interstate. Closer to home, two motorcoaches belonging to a band crashed in Aurora in 2015 causing multiple injuries, but thankfully, no deaths. What may surprise most people, though, is that until recently, there were no laws mandating seat belts on motorcoaches, a similar story to that of school buses. That has since changed, but it will probably take years for the motorcoach industry to catch up with the safety feature.

Seatbelts Required Only on Newer Buses

The National Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) in late 2013, issued a ruling stating that by November 2016, all new motorcoach buses must be equipped with safety belts. Adding this safety feature to a new bus will increase the overall costs for that bus by about $3,000. However, officials note there are about 29,000 older buses on the road and retrofitting those buses with seat belts could cost as much as $40,000 per bus. Because of the cost, the likelihood of a company voluntarily installing seat belts in older buses is slim.

So, how do groups seeking to rent a bus for a trip keep safety in mind? The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCA) advises groups to do some research before booking a bus. Make sure the company you want to hire is reputable. FMCA also provides a great list of safety-first tips for group leaders and passengers that should be reviewed before boarding a motorcoach. It’s well worth the few minutes of time to review and make sure all those on your bus know how to respond in the event of an emergency.

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