Washington • New tour buses and buses that provide service between cities must be equipped with seat belts starting in late 2016 under a federal rule issued Wednesday, a safety measure sought by accident investigators for nearly a half century.
Beginning in November 2016, all new motorcoaches and some other large buses must be equipped by manufacturers with three-point lap-shoulder belts, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said. The rule doesn't apply to school buses or city transit buses.
An average of 21 people in large buses are killed each year in crashes, and nearly 8,000 others are injured annually, the safety administration said. Seat belts could reduce fatalities and moderate-to-severe injuries by nearly half. About half of all motorcoach fatalities are the result of rollovers, and about 70 percent of those killed in rollover accidents were ejected from the bus.
"Adding seat belts to motorcoaches increases safety for all passengers and drivers, especially in the event of a rollover crash," said David Strickland, head of the safety administration.
The nation's fleet of 29,000 motorcoaches transports about 700 million passengers a year in the United States, roughly equivalent to the domestic airline industry, according to the United Motorcoach Association. Since buses are typically on the road for about 20 to 25 years, it will likely be many years before most motorcoaches have seat belts.
The new rule is "an important step," the American Bus Association said in a statement, adding that industry officials worked with government regulators "to ensure that sufficient research and testing went into crafting the new seat belt standard released today." Many new buses are already equipped with seat belts, the association said.
The National Transportation Safety Board first recommended motorcoaches be equipped with seat belts in 1968.
New regulations on windows and roofs are expected to be proposed next year, said a safety administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to release the information in her own name.