KANSAS CITY, MO — Motorcoach buses have been called the passenger plane of the highway. They run more than 700 million passenger trips a year, carrying retirees, school groups, soldiers and sports teams.
Locally, the coaches ferry commuters between Johnson County and Lawrence on the popular Kansas 10 bus route.
But their crashworthiness was called into question again this week when the National Transportation Safety Board examined a Texas crash last year that killed 17 people on their way to a festival in southwest Missouri.
The board expressed frustration with the lack of effective federal crashworthiness standards to protect motorcoach passengers even though it has been making recommendations for improving their safety since 1968.
“I feel like we’re pounding our heads against the wall,” board chairwoman Deborah Hersman said. “We have not seen one iota of change with respect to the crashworthiness for motorcoaches.”
Among the concerns: The roofs crumple too easily. Passengers are likely to be ejected. And it sometimes can be difficult to escape from a crashed bus.
Now the federal government is poised to require seat belts in the vehicles.
For their part, industry spokesmen say they favor tougher safety standards if they’re reasonable and effective.
Federal regulators say a motorcoach is different from a school bus because the chance of ejection is greater. The motorcoach has large panoramic windows, for example, while a school bus has a much tighter window.
Seat belts aren’t required on motorcoaches despite statistics showing that about half the passengers killed were thrown from the buses. From 1998 to 2008, there were 33 rollover and head-on crashes in which 255 passengers were thrown from the bus. At least four were ejected in the Sherman, Texas, crash.
The board also wants new standards for ensuring roof strength, to give riders enough room to survive a crash.
In its conclusions about the Texas crash, the board specifically targeted another federal agency for not implementing NTSB recommendations.
“If the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had implemented the requirements for motorcoach occupant protection systems … fewer injuries might have occurred because more occupants might have been retained within the motorcoach,” the board said.
It was the second time in less than two years that the safety board admonished NHTSA for not moving faster.
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Source: The Kansas City Star