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Wednesday, March 05, 2008
College Baseball Team Crash Inspires Bus Safety Bill
One year ago in Atlanta, a bus toppled off a freeway overpass, killing five Bluffton University baseball players.
John Betts thinks of happier times when he looks at the charcoal drawing above his desk of a smirking baseball player with a cap pulled down on his head. Betts' son David was one of the players who died in the tragedy.
Betts is inspired by the portrait in his fight to make the bus industry improve safety on long-haul buses, like the ones that carry children to soccer tournaments and school trips to the nation's capitol.
"Take a look at that smile," Betts laughed. "It's infectious. I don't see how you can get bitter."
After identifying his 20-year-old son's body at the morgue, the father of four pledged to his son's teammates that something good would come out of the accident, saying, "There had to be some purpose to this."
His persistence is making progress.
Pending before Congress is a bill Betts pushed for that that would require seat belts on charter buses and passenger buses that travel from state to state. Furthermore, the legislation requires changes designed to prevent passengers from being thrown out windows and strengthens bus roofs.
Betts began reading everything he could about bus safety a week after burying his son. "I don't think you have to lose a son or daughter or family member to know this is the right thing to do," he said.
To educate others about the bill before Congress, he created a Web site -http://www.motorcoachsafetynow.com. He believes that seat belts would have saved the five players from the northwest Ohio school and others who have died in rollovers.
A competing bill, calling for more crash test data to determine whether seat belts and the other changes would make buses safer, is being supported by the bus industry.
Victor Parra, president of the United Motorcoach Association, said, "When we're talking about passenger safety, there's no guessing allowed. Let's do it in a way that makes sense."
Parra said there's a lack of proof that seat belts would make buses safer and some studies have questioned how effective they would be. "I'm not against seat belts," he proffered. "Nobody in the industry is against seat belts."
Kimberly Askins is sure her son, Cody Holp, would still be playing baseball if the charter bus carrying the Bluffton team had seat belts. "It's something that should have been done a long time ago," she lamented. "There's no excuse."
Sitting a row in front of David Betts, Holp was thrown through a window and was crushed by the falling bus when it landed on the freeway.
For years, the National Transportation Safety Board has called for seat belts, like buses in Australia and much of Europe, which are outfitted with seat belts.
Jacqueline Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said, "It's not like we are asking the industry to come up with technology that hasn't been invented."
The bus carrying the Bluffton team, made in Europe, was designed to have seat belts but did not. U.S. law does not require restraints.
According to the American Bus Association, about 631 million passenger trips are made by motor coach each year. Federal figures reveal an average of roughly 23 bus deaths per year over the past decade. The figure, says the bus industry, is proof that buses are safe.
Investigators believe the driver of the Bluffton bus ostensibly mistook an exit ramp for a highway lane. The driver and his wife also died.
Northern schools travel to Florida annually to play baseball during spring break. Bluffton is flying this time and will open the season on the one-year anniversary of the crash.
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