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Bus safety

It isn't as if many people die on large buses in this country. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports an average of 21 such deaths annually, along with close to 8,000 others who are injured.

And so, 45 years after the National Transportation Safety Board first recommended that buses by equipped with seat belts, the NHTSA issued a new federal rule this week to do just that. Kind of. And, eventually.

The rule takes effect in November 2016 for all new motorcoaches and some buses weighing more than 13 tons. As the heavy-duty carriers tend to stay on the road for decades, it will be some time before all bus riders would have to buckle up.

The rule also doesn't include school buses, city transit buses, prison buses and perimeter-seating buses, which have fewer than two rows of forward-facing seats. We assume that would be the so-called party bus.

The final rule, which amends Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208, utilizes 202 pages to explain all the details that ultimately hope to prevent 1.7 to 9.2 lives per year.

"Buckling up is the most effective way to prevent deaths and injuries in all vehicular crashes, including motorcoaches," said Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Anne S. Ferro. "Requiring seat belts in new models is another strong step we are taking to reach an even higher level of safety for bus passengers."

We cannot fathom how many committees, studies, resources and personnel have been involved with this issue since 1968 when the subject first came up. It is quite possible a generation of bureaucrats spent their entire careers helping develop this regulation.

If you sense a hint of cynicism, you are correct.

As every passenger car and truck on the road not only is equipped with belts, we are legally required to use them. In many states, it is a primary offense worthy of a police officer pulling you over. We never have understood why so much attention has been focused on our safety, particularly for children with the various and assorted special seats, and then allow school buses to haul dozens of unrestrained kids through the streets and down the highways.

The federal government needs to go all the way. Go ahead and make any vehicle with more than two wheels be required to have seat belts. The individual's right to decide his own safety measures already has been taken away in most cases. There is no reason children aren't being taught at a young age that's just the way it goes in America.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net