Tour and sightseeing buses are a common sight in Honolulu and on Oahu, ferrying tourists about the island to see Hawaii’s signature attractions. Large motor coaches carry thousands of passengers every day on the island, but one thing they don’t carry is seat belts. The risk to riders has been long recognized, but industry opposition had made time stand still for 45 years.
The National Transportation Safety Board has long recommended that all commercial buses be equipped with seat belts. In 1968, a bus accident occurred in California that killed 19 passengers. The investigation of the crash led to the conclusion that many passengers on the bus would have survived had the bus been equipped with seat belts.
The same rationale that makes seat belts effective at preventing fatalities during car accidents applies to buses. An occupant is much more like to survive if they are restrained during an accident. Buses have the added risk of rolling over in a crash because of their high center of gravity. In a rollover crash, 70 percent of fatalities are due to passengers being ejected from the vehicle.
According to the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, 23 people have died this year in bus accidents and more than 300 have been injured. Regulations requiring bus seat belts were expected by August of this year, but have yet to go into effect.
And even if they become mandatory in all new buses, the death toll on the highways may not decrease immediately, because the many buses may not be retrofitted with seat belts and buses can operate for 20 or more years.
The industry has fought seat belts because they add to the price of the bus. Another reason is fear of lawsuits involving older buses without seat belts. While they may not have to retrofit older buses by law, they would no longer be able to argue that a bus met all federal safety standards.
And if seat belts make buses safer, operating them without seat belts could be seen by a jury to be negligence.
Source: Associated Press, “Seat belts on commercial buses delayed 45 years,” Joan Lowy, November 12, 2013