Federal Legislation for Seat Belts on Coach Buses

As we projected in August, the Department of Transportation has provided further guidance on the availability of seat belts on buses. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a Federal rule on November 20th requiring safety belts on all new motorcoaches and buses. However, the measure does not take effect or is enforced until Fall 2016.

The 202-page rule becomes a reality nearly 45-years after the National Transportation Safety Board made its first recommendations in favor of safety belts on buses in 1968, and is a continuation of the Department’s “Motorcoach Safety Action Plan.” The final rule states that all new motorcoaches and some other large buses must be equipped by manufacturers with three-point lap-shoulder belts. However, the rule doesn’t apply to school buses or city transit buses.

According to the NHTSA press release, the final rule amends Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208, and applies to new over-the-road buses and to other types of new buses with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) greater than 11,793 kilograms (26,000 pounds), except transit buses and school buses. It also fulfills a mandate from the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21).

While the number of fatalities (21 annually) for bus passengers is much lower than that of cars, safety belts will aide in reducing that number even more dramatically. About half of all motorcoach fatalities are the result of rollovers, and about 70-percent of those killed in roller accidents were ejected from the bus. NHTSA projects that requiring seat belts could reduce fatalities by up to 44 percent and reduce the number of moderate to severe injuries by up to 45 percent.

“While travel on motorcoaches is overall a safe form of transportation when accidents do occur, there is the potential for a greater number of deaths and serious injuries due to the number of occupants and high speeds at which the vehicles are traveling,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “Adding seat belts to motorcoaches increases safety for all passengers and drivers, especially in the event of a rollover crash.”

“The motorcoach industry worked with the U.S. Department of Transportation to ensure that sufficient research and testing went into crafting the new seat belt standard,” said the American Bus Association in a statement posted on their website. “In fact, most new motorcoaches sold since 2009 already incorporate three-point seat belts.”

It appears that we will be hearing more from NHTSA in the new year. According to the Associated Press’ story filed in conjunction of the new rule, new regulations on windows and roofs are expected to be proposed in 2014.