NHTSA Announces Final Rule Requiring Seat Belts on Motorcoaches

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a final rule that requires three-point, lap-shoulder belts for all passenger seats and the driver on all new motorcoaches and “over-the-road” buses manufactured after Nov. 25, 2016 and weighing more than 26,000 pounds GVWR. School buses and transit buses are excluded.

NHTSA said the regulation finalizes more than six years of work to improve motorcoach safety, which began with an initiative in 2007 and continued two years later with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Motorcoach Safety Action Plan as well as several congressional bills introduced. It was also a provision under the MAP-21 federal highway reauthorization act signed by President Obama last year.

“Although transportation by these buses overall is a safe form of transportation in the U.S., several bus crashes in recent years have illustrated that crashes of these vehicles can cause a significant number of fatal or serious injuries in a single event, due in part to the high occupancy rate of the vehicles, the speed at which they travel, and occupant ejection in rollovers,” NHTSA wrote in the final rule.

In 2009, scientific research conducted at NHTSA’s Vehicle Research and Test Center found that the installation of lap-shoulder belts on motorcoaches “is practicable and effective” and that the occupant restraint systems could reduce the risk of fatal injuries in rollover crashes by 77 percent, primarily by preventing occupant ejection through large, push-out windows. NHTSA also said that three-point belts are “highly effective in preventing fatalities and serious injuries in frontal crashes, and will enhance protection in side crashes in the affected buses.”

The data was the result of a 30-mph, full-frontal barrier crash of a 54-passenger motorcoach with instrumented test dummies on board.

Meanwhile, NHTSA’s Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) found that 87 fatal crashes of buses resulting in 209 total fatalities occurred between 2000 and 2009. On average, 21 occupants a year died in these crashes, which included rollovers. Ejections accounted for 66 percent of the fatalities in rollover crashes, 20 percent of the fatalities in non-rollover crashes and 45 percent of all fatalities. 

The United Motorcoach Association could not be reached for comment at this report, but the group previously had sided with NHTSA’s scientific data rather than what it termed reactionary language inserted in some legislation introduced in Congress over the past six or seven years in response to several high-profile motorcoach crashes.

The National School Transportation Association, which represents contractor companies that own and operate motorcoaches as well as school buses, pointed out that NHTSA recognized in the final rule thatseveral companies have already begun voluntarily purchasing buses and motorcoaches with seat belts and that NHTSA said it will “continue to encourage the industry to speed the adoption of lap-shoulder belts prior to the mandatory deadline.”

Petitions for reconsideration of the final rule are due at NHTSA by early January.