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Will Fatal Bus-Truck Accident Spur New Safety Regulations?

If you've been following national news, you may have seen ongoing reports of a fatal bus-truck collision in California. A tractor-trailer collided with a motorcoach that was carrying about 40 high school students, and a bus window had to be kicked out for many of the students to escape. Flames engulfed the truck and the bus, and 10 people lost their lives. The tragedy underscores the need for updated safety standards for large buses.

More than 15 years have passed since the National Transportation Safety Board recommended making it easier for passengers to evacuate buses. In particular, the board called for making bus windows and emergency exits easier to open. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has yet to provide new bus evacuation rules. 

Only last year did the NHTSA start requiring new tour buses to have seat belts, though the recommendation was first made 45 years ago after a California bus accident killed 19 people. In other words, the agency tends to move slowly, especially with regard to bus regulations.

Given that buses are supposed to be built according to federal safety standards, the bussing industry is unlikely to act until the NHTSA does.

Meanwhile, the risk of injury in a bus accident is extremely serious. If windows and exits are too difficult to open after a crash, bus passengers can easily become trapped, and the consequences can be devastating.

Each year, roughly 700 million passengers are transported by 29,000 motorcoaches throughout the United States. That number of passengers is comparable to the number of people who take domestic plane flights each year. Every one of those passengers should be afforded the peace of mind that the vehicle in which they are traveling is reasonably safe.

Source: ABC News, "Rules Lag to Help Passengers Escape Crashed Buses," John Lowy, April 11, 2014

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