Motorcoaches carry 750 million passengers annually in the U.S. An average of 19 motorcoach occupants are killed each year on U.S. roadways. Ejections account for seventy-eight percent of the fatalities in motorcoach rollover crashes and twenty-eight percent of the fatalities in non-rollover crashes. Wearing lap-shoulder belts on motorcoaches could reduce the risk for passengers of being killed in a rollover crash by 77 percent, primarily by preventing occupant ejection in a crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Motorcoach rollover crashes, while relatively rare, can cause a significant number of fatal or serious injuries in a single event. Citing these facts, the NHTSA earlier this week announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would require new motorcoaches to have lap-shoulder belts in each passenger position.
The NPRM also proposes to require a lap/shoulder belt for the motorcoach and large school bus drivers seating positions, which currently are required to have either a lap or a lap/shoulder belt. Under the proposal, lap/shoulder belt anchorage and attachment hardware is required at all locations for new motorcoaches to meet FMVSS No. 210, Seat belt assembly anchorages, which specifies that they withstand a force of 13,345 N (3,000 pounds) applied simultaneously to the lap and torso portions of the belt assembly. The belt system is required to meet current provisions for seat belt adjustment and fit, so that the seat belts can accommodate a 6-year-old child to a 95th-percentile adult male, be lockable for use with a child restraint system, and be releasable at a single point and by a pushbutton action.
The NHTSA estimates that installing lap/shoulder seat belts on new motorcoaches would save approximately 1 to 8 lives and prevent 144 to 794 injuries per year, depending on the usage of lap/shoulder belts in motorcoaches. The cost per equivalent life saved is estimated to be $1.3 million to $9.9 million.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has taken other steps to improve motorcoach safety. Earlier this year, the department released a Motorcoach Safety Action Plan offering concrete steps for addressing driver fatigue or inattention and improving operator maintenance. These steps include initiating rulemaking to require electronic on-board recording devices on all motorcoaches to better monitor drivers duty hours and manage fatigue; initiating rulemaking to propose prohibiting texting; and limiting the use of cellular telephones and other devices by motorcoach drivers.
Previously, the NHTSA studied the use of seat belts on school buses. It found limited evidence of a carryover effect of no seat belts on school buses to seat belt use in personal vehicles. Instead, parents and mandatory seat belt laws seem to play the most significant role on childrens seat belt use in personal vehicles.
In the future, new federal standards could result from research being conducted to attempt to improve motorcoach structure, particularly the roof, fire safety protection and emergency egress is also under way. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is seeking public comment on the seat belt proposal for the next 60 days. The proposed rule will take effect three years after the final rule is issued.
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