Lap, shoulder belts not required in 10,000- to 26,000-pound vehicles
The Mid-Size Bus Manufacturers Association is eager to work with federal regulators to hammer out terms for mandating lap and shoulder belts for buses weighing 10,000 to 26,000 pounds.
Through a quirk of federal rule-making, buses in that category are not subject to the same safety regulations applied to larger — and smaller — passenger vehicles. The National Transportation Safety Board has repeatedly called upon the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to fill that gap, and recently asked the industry to voluntarily equip all mid-size buses with three-point belts.
In its report following a 2017 church shuttle bus crash near Concan, Texas, the NTSB found the lack of shoulder belts may have contributed to the deaths of six of the 13 bus occupants, who were killed when their vehicle was struck head-on by a pickup. During an Oct. 16 hearing, NTSB staff said it has been recommending a three-point-restraint mandate for mid-sized buses since 2010.
“Since timely regulations requiring lap and shoulder belts is unlikely any time soon,” the NTSB staff said, it asked the manufacturers of medium-sized buses to voluntarily install lap and shoulder belts as standard equipment in all seating positions.
A spokesman for MSBMA said the industry would prefer a regulatory mandate to voluntary compliance so manufacturers would not continue to be pressured by customers to configure buses without three-point belts.
A statement released by the National Truck Equipment Association, of which MSBMA is a member, said, “Members of MSBMA and its seating suppliers strongly encourage these systems to customers, despite the increased costs and weight associated with them. However, many public and private purchasers are unwilling to accept a reduction in passenger capacity or other resource requirements necessary to accommodate integral 3-point belts.
“NTSB effectually advocated to incorporate integral 3-point restraints into the FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) for heavier buses and over-the-road coaches. MSBMA supports extending this same level of protection to all bus occupants, including those of side-facing/ perimeter seats,” the statement said.
It said such restraints “are a critical element of vehicle safety and their proper application should not be left to voluntary industry practice” and must be incorporated into FMVSS.
NTSB has been recommending lap and shoulder belt regulations for mid-sized buses since a 2009 accident in which the driver of a 29-passenger bus, not equipped with safety belts, lost control near Dolan Springs, Arizona. When the bus overturned and came to rest, 15 of its 17 occupants had been fully or partially ejected. Seven died.
The occupant protection recommendation to NHTSA from that accident is listed in NTSB files as “Open-Unacceptable Response.”
Not cost beneficial’
In 2016, then-NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind wrote to NTSB, “The agency did not expand the applicability of these rulemaking actions to buses with GVWRs (gross vehicle weight ratings) between 10,000 and 26,000 pounds because development of a regulation for these buses was not found to be cost beneficial.”
In its report, NTSB stated:
- 15 members of MSBMA produce 80 percent to 90 percent of mid-size buses built in the U.S. and Canada.
Mid-sized buses account for a growing portion of multi-passenger vehicle sales in the U.S.
- Sales in 2016 totaled $600 million for 14,689 vehicles — about seven times the volume of motorcoaches
- The estimated the cost of upgrading a lap belt to a three-point restraint is at $20 per seat.