Product Liability

Seat belts on commercial buses, a new NHTSA regulation

Passenger seat belts will soon be a requirement on commercial buses – a measure that the National Transportation Safety Board has long advocated but didn’t have the authority to enforce. Yesterday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has the legal authority to establish transportation safety standards, told Congress that it will require commercial motor coaches to have safety belts for their passengers.

The new safety requirement comes after a series of fatal bus crashes that received national publicity. After analyzing the events surrounding a 2008 Utah bus rollover in which nine people died and 43 were injured, the NTSB concluded that federal regulations don’t offer enough protection to bus passengers. The American Association for Justice (AAJ) subsequently responded to the report by calling for a close review – and a possible revision – of federal transportation safety regulations proposed during the Bush Administration and currently pending.

Safety advocates, including the NTSB and the AAJ, reproached the NHTSA for acting too slowly in making much needed safety improvements on commercial buses. “The finding from the NTSB shows how the public is endangered when federal agencies drag their feet,” said Gerie Voss, the AAJ Director of Regulatory Affairs. “The Obama Administration must make updating transportation safety standards a priority.”

According to Ron Medford, the NHTSA’s acting administrator, commercial bus safety has become one of the agency’s top priorities. “I think it is true that the NHTSA was slow to act,” he told the Detroit News.

Although nearly as many Americans travel on commercial buses as they do airplanes, buses are the least regulated motor vehicles under the NHTSA’s jurisdiction.

The NTSB has called for better safety regulations of commercial buses since 1999. Over the last ten years, the agency has investigated 33 bus accidents involving the ejection of more than 250 passengers unrestrained by seat belts. While motor coaches provide one of the safest forms of travel, many of the fatalities that have occurred in bus accidents could have been prevented with fairly simple regulations, such as the use of seat belts, stronger roofs and windows, and better fire proofing and emergency exits.