Last updated: November 14. 2013 3:09AM - 2288 Views
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The Lima News

Safety measures like seat belts are neither revolutionary nor complicated. They’re required on cars as well as jetliners. Motor coaches in Europe must have them.

Yet, no such requirements are being enforced for tour buses in the United States.

Not after seven people died when a bus carrying the Bluffton University baseball team plummeted off a highway overpass near Atlanta in 2007.

Not after National Transportation Safety Board said government inaction was partly responsible for the severity of injuries in a rollover crash near Mexican Hat, Utah, in 2009, which killed nine skiers and injured 43.

Not after investigators found a lack of seat belts contributed to 19 deaths on a California highway when a drunken driver slammed into a bus back in 1968. That was 45 years ago, and safety advocates are still waiting for the government to act on seat belts and other measures to protect bus passengers.

It was supposed to happen this year, but a report by The Associated Press noted regulations requiring seat belts on new buses are still under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget. The regulations were due in September.

Other regulations on windows and roofs are due by Sept. 30, 2014, but safety advocates said they doubt the government will meet that deadline since it is less than a year away and regulations haven’t even been proposed, let alone made final.

All of this despite the fact Congress wrapped bus safety improvements into a larger transportation bill, which was signed into law last year. Such foot-dragging not only is an example of bureaucratic incompetence, but it is a slap in the face to all of the families who lost loved ones in such tour bus accidents.

“If their son or daughter or wife or husband were killed in a motorcoach accident, perhaps that would get it off their desk.” John Betts, of Bryan, told The Associated Press. He lobbied to get the safety legislation passed after his son David was killed in the Bluffton crash. “We have worked too hard for too long for such a common-sense thing to be held up by people that don’t see it as significant.”

About half of all such motorcoach fatalities are the result of rollovers, and about 70 percent of those killed in rollover accidents were ejected from the bus, according to The National Transportation Safety Board. Its repeated calls for safety measures has received plenty of lip service, but no action.

Following the rollover crash that killed the nine people in Utah, then-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood promised the department would act to improve motorcoach safety, including requiring seat belts. That was four years ago.

When the Associated Press requested an explanation of the holdup, a spokeswoman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration refused to reply. Her silence was as good as saying, “There is no reason for our inaction.”

Bus manufacturers aren’t fighting the inclusion of seat belts on new buses. In fact most manufacturers have recently begun including seat belts on most new buses, according to the AP. The cost — $13,000 — is just a fraction of the total cost of a bus, which ranges between $350,000 and $500,000.

But buses are typically on the road for about 20 to 25 years. It is the retrofitting of those old buses with seat belts that sparks their opposition. The industry claims the seats on older buses are not strong enough to withstand the repeated pulling of straps, and the retrofitting would be expensive

To which we go back to the point made by John Betts: If their son or daughter or wife or husband were killed in a motorcoach accident, perhaps they would see the added expense being worth the cost of ensuring safer travel and saving lives.

It is time for regulators to get with the program and establish requirements that are long overdue.

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