Seeking to curb the number of injuries in bus accidents and other motor coach crashes, the National Highway Safety Administration has issued a new rule mandating shoulder and lap seat belts for all passengers and drivers of motor coaches and other large buses.
The agency estimates that an average of 21 motorcoach and large bus occupants are killed every year. Another 8,000 are injured. The introduction of seat belts is expected to reduce the number of deaths by 44 percent and the number of injuries by up to 45 percent.
The announcement comes on the heels of several serious New York City bus accidents over the last several years.
Two years ago, the NHTSA completed its investigation into the horrific March 2011 crash of a motor coach in New York City, reportedly caused by a severely fatigued driver. According to the agency’s public affairs’ office, the bus was carrying 32 passengers on I-95 en route from a casino in Connecticut when it ran off the road, struck a guardrail and overturned before slamming into a vertical highway sign post.
Fifteen passengers were killed and 17 others suffered serious-to-minor injuries. The driver was mostly unhurt.
It was the deadliest bus crash the federal agency had ever investigated. It was later revealed the driver hadn’t slept for nearly 72 hours prior and was speeding at nearly 80 miles-per-hour at the time of the crash.
Drowsy, reckless driving were obviously to blame. But could seat belts have helped? The NHTSA hasn’t said specifically, but we do know that several of the passengers died as a result of injuries sustained when they were ejected from the bus. Had seat belts kept them strapped in, it’s reasonable to conclude several more may have survived.
Another recent bus crash happened in Harlem early last year. In that case, 11 people were injured, five of them seriously, after the driver of a sport utility vehicle struck a parked bus head-on near Fredrick Douglass Boulevard. Several of the injured were pedestrians, though some people on the bus at the time were hurt as well.
In its 202-page final rule, the NHTSA reported that while traveling by motor coach is generally safe, when accidents do occur there is more of a likelihood that they will be deadly and result in more serious injuries. These vehicles tend to be more prone than others to rollover incidents.
Requiring seat belts, the agency asserts, will reduce the number of ejection-related fatalities and injuries.
The final rule amends Safety Standard 208 of the Federal Motor Vehicle code. It will be applicable to all buses weighing more than 26,000 pounds, but it won’t include transit buses and school buses.
It’s part of the DOT’s Motorcoach Safety Action Plan, as designated in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). It will be effective for all buses built as of November 2016.
That still means there will be a fair number of buses on the road without safety belts equipped, though a number of companies have begun voluntarily purchasing buses that include them. Buses that aren’t equipped with them won’t be required to retroactively install them.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
NHTSA Announces Final Rule Requiring Seat Belts on Motorcoaches, Nov. 20, 2013, National Highway Traffic Safety Association
More Blog Entries:
Harlem Bus Accident Sends 11 to Hospital, Feb. 13, 2013, New York City Car Accident Lawyer Blog