After many years of debating whether to put seatbelts on tour buses, the answer is finally revealed. Most tour companies will now start putting seatbelts in their buses to provide additional safety to their passengers. The recent change was sparked when data revealed that almost 60 percent of all fatalities in tour buses occurred when the vehicle over-turned. Without the seatbelts keeping the passengers in the vehicle once over-turned, the thought of adding seatbelts made even more sense.
The Department of Transportation's National Highway and Traffic Safety
Administration said in a 2010 report that seat belts might reduce fatalities in
rollover accidents by 77 percent. That assumes passengers would use the safety
restraints. Some tour bus operators say that even when buses are equipped with
seat belts, 10 percent of passengers, or fewer, use them.
New seat belt regulations this year are expected to require seat belts in tour buses, and many tour companies, knowing the regulations are imminent, already have begun switching to buses outfitted with the restraints. Data from the traffic safety agency show that between 2003 and 2009, 133 people were killed in motor coach accidents. In a 2010 statement, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, "Seat belts save lives, and putting them in motor coaches just makes sense."
The traffic safety agency has issued several reports in recent years as well as two action plans, the second of which was published last year. Many companies are way ahead of the government.
Maureen Richmond, a spokeswoman for Greyhound, the nation's largest interstate bus company, said the company already has seatbelts in 75 percent of its motor coaches. "We started to install them in 2008," Richmond said. "We took a look at what our customers were asking for." She said each new bus that replaces an old one in the Greyhound fleet will have lap and shoulder belts. She was unsure how much longer it would take before all of the company's buses are equipped.
Other company owners said they believe a seatbelt requirement is inevitable, and they have already begun making the shift.
The story is different with school buses. In 2005, California became the first state to require lap and shoulder belts on new school buses. Since 1977, the federal government has required school buses to use "compartmentalization" -- high, padded seat backs designed to absorb impact in a crash. But the system didn't provide protection in rollovers or prevent children from being ejected.
Studies from pilot programs in the six states where school bus seat belts are required -- and students are required to wear them -- showed that at least 75 percent of elementary students buckle up; among middle and high school students, compliance dropped to 50 percent or less, according to the National School Transportation Association.
In New York, the only state that requires seat belts but does not insist that students use them, the rate is close to zero at all grade levels, the association said. Getting seat belts on a new bus costs $8,500 to $13,000.
Dan Ronan, spokesman for the American Bus Association, said despite the ongoing debate, seat belts will be a standard feature on buses in the near future. They are an option on almost any new bus, and buyers are requesting them. "I can't think of anyone who I've heard of who has bought a new coach in the last 18 months or a year that hasn't put in seat belts," Ronan said. The only question is how soon the restraints will be required.
"The manufacturers are ready, and the companies are ready," Ronan said. "We're waiting for the Department of Transportation to make a final ruling."
The final ruling should be a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t anyone add seatbelts to their buses? The belts have proven time and time again that they have saved lives. What is there to really debate? Costs? Are costs more important than saving a life? I don’t think so.