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NHTSA Working On New Charter Bus Safety Rules In 2013

Craig McClellan

As part of its regulatory authority to make America's roads safer, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently announced some progress that it hopes to make in 2013. One of the most important of these goals is a new regulation that would make seat belts mandatory in all new commercial buses.

This rule would enact legislation that Congress finally passed last year after years of debate. Despite a wealth of data to show that seat belts reduce fatal car accidents, the large financial cost of installing this equipment discouraged Congress from acting until now.

The regulation, expected to be finalized by the end of 2013, would only require bus companies to equip new vehicles with seat belts. This means that the 29,000 buses currently in use around the nation would still lack this equipment. On top of this limitation, the new regulation will not kick in until three years after the NHTSA finalizes it—meaning that many companies will be able to wait until 2016 to comply.

The NHTSA is considering several other rules to target charter bus crashes. This might be a result of several high-profile crashes that occurred in recent years. These rules could include stricter guidelines to improve structural integrity of buses, performance in rollover accidents, and evacuation accessibility.

Regulatory action has played a huge role in the story of transportation safety in America. The NHTSA and other agencies have led the way on safer vehicles, better roads, and improved driving practices for decades. Hopefully these rules will help the NHTSA make the charter bus industry safer in years to come.


In November 2013, the NHTSA officially announced their new regulations for charter buses and motorcoaches. As we predicted, beginning November 2016, every new large bus (other than school or transit buses) must be equipped with shoulder and lap belts. Since 45% of fatalities in motorcoach crashes were the result of a lack of seatbelts, we believe this will improve passenger safety drastically.

In June of 2014, the Department of Transportation made another charter bus safety update, this time aimed at improving the safety of buses in rollover crashes. Their proposal would include new performance tests that would ensure passengers survive rollover crashes at a higher rate.

Their new safety standards would include:

  • Making sure space between seating stays the same in a crash
  • Ensuring luggage compartments and seats stay attached to their mounts
  • Ensure emergency exits stay closed in the event of a rollover crash

The NHTSA reports that 7,934 bus passengers are injured every year, and 21 more are killed on average. As for our firm, these new safety regulations cannot come fast enough. European buses already include features that favor seatbelts and safety restraints. And while three years is a short time, enough crashes have occurred to justify moving the mandatory deadline to a sooner date.

Devastating Charter Bus Crashes

Just a few months ago, in November 2015, a charter bus traveling through Arkansas struck a concrete barrier and crashed into an overpass. Six people were killed—three of them ejected from the bus. In 2014, a charter bus rolled over on a California highway, causing the death of a passenger and seriously injuring six more. In both cases, the drivers weren't using drugs or alcohol and had clean driving records.

One third of the average annual fatality rate was claimed by these accidents alone, which may have been prevented by seat belt regulations. It’s long past time that the safety of charter buses were closely and strictly examined. Requiring new buses to include seat belts is a great step—but perhaps more decisive action regarding existing motorcoaches is needed.