For most Americans today, putting on a seatbelt when getting into a car comes naturally. But step onboard a bus, and you may be surprised to find there simply are no seatbelts to put on.
That may change if a bill currently being debated in Congress is passed. The bill, called the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act, would implement new safety rules for buses in the wake of a number of high-profile bus accidents that caused multiple fatalities.
In one crash this spring, 15 people were killed and 17 others injured when a bus returning to New York City from an out-of-state casino overturned on a highway. Just three days later, 41 people were injured -and three were killed -when their bus, bound for Philadelphia, left the road and struck a concrete overpass.
The bill currently before Congress had been reintroduced just a few days before the two crashes, after having failed to pass during the last session – despite bipartisan support – due to the procedural blocking efforts of Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
The new bill calls for seat belts to be installed in all buses – not just new buses, but also buses already in service. It also calls for stronger windows to prevent passengers from being ejected from the bus in a crash, and stronger roofs to prevent passengers from being crushed in rollover accidents.
Beyond those structural safety measures, the bill also calls for better training and licensing for bus drivers. Drivers would be required to pass a drug and alcohol test and to obtain a commercial drivers license passenger-carrying endorsement for carrying as few as 9 passengers. The bill also calls for a national registry of qualified medical examiners to conduct all physical examinations of drivers.
Finally, the bill would require electronic onboard recorders to track the vehicle’s location without being tampered with by the driver. This would be a major improvement over paper records kept by drivers, which can all too easily be falsified.
Although some transportation industry observers have balked at the likely cost of retrofitting the nation’s bus fleet with seat belts, positive steps have been taken in that direction by manufacturers. According to one industry trade group, 80 percent of new buses today are already equipped with seatbelts.
In short, improved bus safety wouldn’t break the bank. It’s time to do it.