NHTSA announces final rule for requiring seatbelts on motorcoaches

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today issued a final rule requiring lap and shoulder seat belts for each passenger and driver seat on new motorcoaches and other large buses. This new rule enhances the safety of these vehicles by significantly reducing the risk of fatalities and serious injuries in frontal crashes and the risk of occupant ejection in rollovers.

“Safety is our highest priority and we are committed to reducing the number of deaths and injuries on our roadways,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Today’s rule is a significant step forward in our efforts to improve motorcoach safety.”

On average, 21 motorcoach and large bus occupants are killed and 7,934 are injured annually in motor vehicle crashes, according to NHTSA data. Requiring seat belts could reduce fatalities by up to 44 percent and reduce the number of moderate to severe injuries by up to 45 percent.

“While travel on motorcoaches is overall a safe form of transportation, when accidents do occur, there is the potential for a greater number of deaths and serious injuries due to the number of occupants and high speeds at which the vehicles are traveling,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “Adding seat belts to motorcoaches increases safety for all passengers and drivers, especially in the event of a rollover crash.”

“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.”

The final rule, which amends Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208, applies to new over-the-road buses and to other types of new buses with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) greater than 11,793 kilograms (26,000 pounds), except transit buses and school buses. This final rule fulfills a mandate from the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). Beginning in November 2016, newly manufactured buses will be required to be equipped with lap and shoulder belts for each driver and passenger seat.

Several companies have already begun voluntarily purchasing buses that include seat belts and the Department will continue encouraging the industry to speed the adoption of lap and shoulder seat belts prior to the mandatory deadline. In addition, the Department will continue moving forward with other initiatives to improve motorcoach safety as outlined in the Motorcoach Safety Action Plan.

Victor S. Parra, president and CEO of the United Motorcoach Association (UMA), issued the following statement to its members:

After more than ten years of discussion, debate and testing, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has at long last issued a final rule requiring lap and shoulder seat belts for each passenger and driver be installed on newly manufactured motorcoaches beginning in November 2016.

 In its release today, NHTSA states that “this final rule significantly reduces the risk of fatality and serious injury in frontal crashes and the risk of occupant ejection in rollovers, thus considerably enhancing the safety of these vehicles.”

This final rule should come as no surprise to anyone in our industry. The only question that seemed unanswered until now was, would NHTSA require companies to retrofit their current buses with seat belts? The answer seems to be “no.”  NHTSA cites that “the cost of and engineering expertise needed for a retrofitting operation would be beyond the means of bus owners, many of which are small businesses.”  UMA’s comments on the retrofit issue supported a finding that the impact to our members would be unreasonable.

The standards outlined in the final rule appear consistent with the proposed rule. Much of the rule fulfills mandates from the last surface transportation reauthorization bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), for which the UMA’s legislative team worked tirelessly to shape this positive outcome for Over-the-Road-Bus (OTRB) operators.

Given the number of pages, UMA will study the rule more closely and give you a thorough analysis shortly in an upcoming issue of Bus & Motorcoach News. In the interim, we wanted you to be aware that the final seat belt rule was issued.