After the news spread across national media regarding 13 fatalities in the Hot Springs California Bus Crash, the question of seatbelts on buses, or lack of them, became a trending topic.
It is apparent to investigators, if the 43 occupants of the bus were wearing seatbelts, the number of injuries and deaths would be considerably lower. The type of injuries to passengers were blunt or jagged force trauma, consistent to airborne bodies. Even if the passengers of the bus elected to wear seatbelts, none were available.
The question that has been raised many times following horrific bus crashes is - why are there are no seatbelts installed on buses?
To address this question, buses must be divided into two categories, passenger buses and school buses.
Tour Bus Seat Belt Regulations
There are no federal regulations requiring seat belts to be installed on existing large tour or charter buses. Even though studies by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration determined that injuries and deaths in rollover crashes could be reduced by 77 % and 29% in head on crashes, the estimated price of retrofitting older buses, between $14,650 and $40,000 per bus, would be cost prohibitive.
Most of the tour bus companies are small businesses who could not afford to upgrade and studies have shown that fewer than 10% of passengers would wear them if they were available. This figure was derived from studies in other countries that require seatbelts. The NHTSA concluded that only a handful of deaths would be prevented by requiring the addition of seat belts to older buses.
Contrary to the finding regarding older buses, new federal standards will require manufacturers of new large buses to include seat belts this year. A little late for the passengers of the Hot Springs crash, but hope for passengers in the future.
To encourage passengers to buckle up they must know the risks they are taking before purchasing a ticket and boarding a tour bus. A decades old federal law still requires only $5 million worth of insurance to be carried by bus operators and there is no increase expected anytime soon. This could prove to be grossly inadequate in a case of multiple deaths and injuries following a crash. Lost income for a single seriously injured passenger along with medical bills could easily top that figure over a lifetime.
Seat Belts on School Buses
On November 21, 2016, a school bus carrying elementary school children crashed in Chattanooga, Tennessee where six young school children were killed and more than 23 others were critically injured. Would having seatbelts on the bus prevented these deaths and injuries?
Historically, school buses have an excellent safety record. Over the years, it's been demonstrated riding in a school bus can be safer to get to and from school than being driven, walking or riding a bike. Currently, the NHTSA requires seat belts on smaller school buses weighing less than 10,000 pounds, but does not require them on 80% of the nation's school bus fleet which are larger. Common thought is that the installation of seatbelts on what's considered already the safest mode of transport for children, larger school buses would reduce the rider capacity forcing more student to resort to more dangerous methods of transportation to and from school such as walking, riding in a car of riding a bike. The NHTSA originally believed that there would be an increase in fatalities if large school buses were required to have seatbelts. The NHTSA reversed that position last year.
The average number of fatalities to occupants of school buses per year in the U.S is only five. The federal government has left the decision for requiring seatbelts on large school buses up to the individual states and local counties.
The states that currently require seatbelts on school buses are:
· California - Currently the only state with a law that requires lap and shoulder belts on a newly manufactured school buses. The Los Angeles Unified School district was one of the earliest seat belt law adopters. They began purchasing buses equipped with seatbelts in the 1980s and today more than 80 percent of the fleets buses are equipped with them.
· Florida, New Jersey and New York have passed less stringent seatbelt laws. New Jersey and New York are looking toward bolstering the requirement to lap and shoulder belts.
· Louisiana and Texas passed seatbelt laws but funding has not been allocated to date.
· Arizona, Hawaii. Maryland, Rhode Island, South Carolina and West Virginia all have pending legislation related to school bus seat belt requirements.
It appears at present that any federal mandate is unlikely. The National Association for Pupil Transportation, believes that "the decision should be left to state and local districts because they are in the best position to make determinations, given budget restraints."
School districts with already strained budgets are not in any position to upgrade with the average cost ranging between $7,300 to $10,300 per vehicle.
Vititoe Law Group is a personal injury law firm with expertise in bus accidents. If you or a loved one has been injured reach out to an experienced bus accident attorney today for a free consultation.