New Bill to Reform Bus Safety Proposed After Bus Crashes Kill 17

A new bill, the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act, has been introduced to Congress and referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation for review. The bill would require higher standards of safety for coaches, buses and their drivers.

The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-OH; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY; Charles E. Schumer, D-NY; Richard Blumenthal, D-CT; Kay Hutchinson, R-TX; and Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ.

The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act is a response to the recent coach bus crashes in New York on March 12 and in New Jersey on March 14, 2011. Both accidents involved motorcoach buses that were headed to casinos after picking up passengers in Chinatown.

Collectively, the two crashes killed 17 people and left four others critically injured at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. The buses were independently operated by different companies.

The Proposed Changes to Current Bus Safety Standards

If passed, the bill will require seat belts to be installed in all new buses as well as retrofitting all older buses with safety seat belts. Stronger seats and windows would be required to prevent passengers from being ejected from the vehicle. The bill also calls for crush-resistant roofs strong enough to hold up during vehicle rollovers.

The bill would require better training and education for bus and coach drivers. Finally, the bill would require tracking technology in buses, similar to the black boxes used in airplanes, that would record the accident to help investigators determine the cause of a crash.

Reactions to the Bill

The idea of requiring seat belts on buses has been proposed to Congress previously, but was not considered a priority at the time. The recent fatalities seem to have pushed the issue forward. "Congress can no longer afford to ignore this issue," co-sponsor Hutchinson said.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is a coalition of medical and insurance groups that support the bill. The organization's vice president argued that the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that safety belts be required on buses for many years.

President of the American Bus Association, however, claims that the industry is not prepared to retrofit older buses with seat belts because no industry-wide standards exist. The president of the bus association also denies that the fatalities are a result of poor safety features in the vehicles themselves and instead blames drivers' mistakes.

Many other countries have required safety belts in buses for years. Australia has used them for 14 years and, since then, hasn't yet seen a fatality resulting from a bus crash during which passengers were wearing their safety belts.