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How Safe Are Buses?

One of the safest modes of highway transportation in the U.S. is buses and motor coaches with over 750 million passengers.  Still, an average of 19 occupants are killed annually on buses.  Wearing lap-shoulder belts could reduce the risk for passengers being killed in a rollover crash by 77%.  As safe as they are, each type of motor coach presents a different danger.

School Buses

School buses are currently one of the safer forms of transportation on the road due to an occupant protection system called ‘compartmentalization’.  According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), compartmentalization in a school bus means strong seats, closely spaced together, high backed, well padded, and are designed to absorb energy during a crash.  This type of system provides protection for front and rear-end collisions.  But what about side impacts and roll-overs?

The NTSB has issued recommendations to include lap belts in school buses, but these recommendations are not mandatory and only a few states and municipalities currently require seat belts on school buses (FL, TX, CA, LA, NJ, and NY).  Last August, a proposal was made by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that would require new motor coaches to have lap-shoulder belts, and would essentially redefine “motor coaches” and amend Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208 – Occupant Crash Protection, to require the installation of lap/shoulder belts at all driver and passenger seating positions, and the installation of lap/shoulder belts at driver seating positions of large school buses.  All drivers on the road have to exercise a duty of reasonable care in maintaining and handling a motor vehicle.  The major difference with school buses is that bus drivers have precious cargo – our children.  So our children’s safety on school buses, which do not have adequate safety features, is getting more attention.

Intercity Coach Buses

Intercity coach buses, for instance Mega Bus and Bolt Bus, are taken by thousands of people to go from city to city.  Most, but not all, of these vehicles are equipped with seatbelts.  Duane DeBruyne, a spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which oversees motor coach operator safety states that agents conduct both random roadside inspections as well as compliance reviews.  However, it is still up to the carriers to abide by safety regulations.  Some types of safety violations include:

  • Fatigued driving and driver fitness
  • Not maintaining driver logs
  • Defects (ie.  Cracked windshield)
  • Speeding and other local traffic violations

Party Buses

On the other hand, party buses present a new type of danger.  With its mood lighting, surround sound system, and lounge setting, the party bus is still a bus, and therefore still subject to regulations as any other bus.  The club-like mood encourages drinking and dancing and is problematic for its passengers.  They are not worried about safety, and more likely to be vulnerable to injuries following a collision.  Typically, there are no seatbelts in party buses, nor is there any form of compartmentalization (high backed, well padded seats stated previously).  The bus driver is not closed off from the rest of the bus, and therefore could easily be distracted with a bus-full of party goers.  “Party bus” accidents can result in catastrophic inquiries and death because passengers are typically moving around the bus, and there are simply less safety features than the typical bus used commercially by municipalities.  According to a Safety Research & Strategies article, in March 2011, 15 passengers aboard a casino bus were killed while 18 were injured, which is high for bus accidents.

Although it seems like there is a strong case for safety modifications on buses, actually putting the plan in motion would require carriers to direct their funds to implementing these safety measures especially if buses have to be retrofitted to meet new legislation.

One thought on “How Safe Are Buses?

  1. All great points. Safety is certainly something that I’ve put a lot of thought into as a party bus driver myself. Specifically, as it relates to alcohol here are a few things I’ve begun doing on my bus.

    Enforcing a Strict Zero Tolerance Policy on Underage Drinking

    One of the things I like about my employer ( is that they’ve instituted a company-wide zero tolerance on underage drinking. They’ve even gone so far as to integrate questions about age and drinking into the telephone intake process. To the extent that if the caller indicates that there will be underage passengers the owners suggest designating an adult chaperone to ensure that the passengers behave themselves in an orderly fashion.

    Limit Dancing Times

    Okay, so while some might think this defeats the purpose of hailing a party bus, as your article points out party bus accidents can prove tragic – precisely due to passengers standing or even dancing at the time of impact. So something that I’ve started doing with my passengers is only allowing them to dance when the bus is standing still.

    But once again, this is a great article. I think that it’s something that all party bus drivers and operators consider addressing before states across the country begin doing it for us.

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