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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Senators Propose New Bus Safety Rules

New Proposal for Seat Belts in Wake of Deadly Bus Crash

Recently, two U.S. senators, motivated by a bus crash that claimed the lives of five college baseball players, proposed that wearing seat belts be mandatory on long-haul buses.

Furthermore, the proposed legislation would require alterations to bus windows designed to help prevent passengers from being hurled out of the vehicles during accidents.

Senators Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, are also calling for training for drivers, improved strength of bus roofs that would hold up in rollover accidents, and more protection against fire. They said the legislation would reduce deaths and injuries in bus accidents.

Their proposal was announced almost eight months after a bus carrying Bluffton University's baseball team rode over an overpass in Atlanta. Five players, the bus driver, and his wife perished.

Some of those who were killed or injured were flung from the bus and crushed underneath it. Seats in the first few rows were the only ones equipped with seat belts.

In Texas, 2005, a bus transporting senior citizens escaping Hurricane Rita went up in flames because of an unlubricated wheel axle. The accident claimed 23 lives.

The new proposal pertains to buses that travel from one state to another; it does not affect city buses or school buses.

John Betts, whose son David was among the players killed, commented, "There's no question this will save lives."

Betts, after inspecting the wreckage of the bus his son was riding in, now believes that seat belts would make buses safer.

"Every seat in the bus was intact," said Betts. "If you're in the seat, you're intact."

According to bus industry representatives, more testing is needed to ascertain what would make the vehicles safer.

"If there's a better way to protect people on motor coaches, we're all for it," the president of the United Motorcoach Association, Victor Parra, said. "Let's look at the best way to do it."

Parra said that bus windows were engineered so that they open easily during an accident or fire to allow passengers to escape. And there's no guarantee that those onboard will wear seat belts, he added.

Most of the players on the Bluffton bus were asleep and stretched out across their seats or in the aisle when the bus crashed. "Obviously, seat belts wouldn't have helped them," Parra said.

The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended improved restraint systems for years. Many experts say seat belts could prevent passengers from being tossed around and ejected.

Brown criticized the bus industry for failing to adopt the recommendations made by the NTSB. "They want to stall," he said. "I was hoping they'd want to be more cooperative."

According to the American Bus Association, about 631 million passenger trips are made by motor coaches each year. Federal figures show an average of about 23 bus deaths per year over the past decade.

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