Improve bus safety
Less than half of the tour buses on the nation’s highways have seat and shoulder belts, safety equipment the National Transportation Safety Board has been recommending for the past 50 years.
It shouldn’t take another accident with injuries and fatalities to push the seat-belt issue from recommendation to requirement.
The Jan. 5 multivehicle crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike raised the issue of motor coach safety once again after the driver of the bus involved in the accident and two passengers were among five people killed. There were no safety belts in the bus for passengers, only the driver.
The NTSB has been pushing for passenger safety belts since the 1960s, but the only real progress has been a requirement for belts on larger buses built after 2016. More than half of the 30,000 buses on the road do not fall into that category.
Also troubling is the fact that smaller buses — those between 10,000 and 26,000 pounds — have no requirement for safety belts.
Despite a mountain of evidence showing that seat and shoulder belts save lives in vehicle crashes, there seems little urgency to make the NTSB recommendations mandatory. The safety board is an independent agency that reviews accidents and can only make recommendations to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, part of the Department of Transportation.
In a 2016 report to Congress, the traffic administration estimated it would cost $14,650 to $40,000 to retrofit each existing tour bus. Pointing to studies showing that only about 10 percent of bus passengers use available seat and shoulder belts, the NHTSA concluded “retrofitting was unlikely to produce substantial safety benefits.”
The benefits may not be substantial, but they certainly matter. From 2009 to 2018, 461 passengers were killed when tour buses crashed, according to the Transportation Department. Many of those fatalities were the result of passengers being ejected from the vehicle or thrown about the interior after impact.
There is a cost factor in requiring safety belts on all tour buses, but it’s time Congress took the repeated recommendations from the NTSB and made them law. A half-century of warnings is far too long to wait for action.
* Guest editorial from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in Pittsburgh, Pa.