Despite new regulations mandating seat belts on recently built tour buses, passengers are still losing their lives in crashes.
A crash Thursday in Northern California killed 10 people and injured 34 when a tour bus carrying Los Angeles-area students collided with a FedEx truck. Eerily, the crash occurred almost exactly one year from the date of a tour bus crash in Irving that killed three people and injured dozens of senior citizens.
The history of serious crashes involving tour buses or motor coaches stretches back into the 1950s and highlights a pattern of danger that federal regulations have just begun to attempt to mitigate.
Congress wrapped bus safety improvements, including a provision for seat belts in recently built tour buses, into a larger transportation bill which was signed into law in 2012. Those regulations, however, only apply to buses produced in 2007 or later. The regulations do not order buses built before 2007 to be retrofit with safety belts.
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The industry opposes requiring that existing buses be retrofitted with seat belts saying the seats are not designed for them and may not be strong enough to withstand the repeated pulling of straps. Retrofitting is also more expensive than adding belts to new buses.
Dan Ronan, spokesman for the American Bus Association, told NBC 5 retrofitting faced significant engineering challenges as well. Ronan said most buses built today offer safety belts as a factory-standard option.
Other regulations include stronger windows that don't pop out from the force of a collision, helping to keep passengers from being ejected, and roofs that withstand crushing. Those recommendations are nearly as old as the seat belt recommendation. Those are due by Sept. 30, 2014, but safety advocates told The Associated Press in 2013 they doubted the government will meet that deadline.
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Still, the National Transportation Safety Board counts occupant safety as one of it's highest priorities, including it on their "Most Wanted" lists for the past three years.
"Steps to preventing injuries in the event of an accident are just as critical as identifying
ways to prevent transportation accidents," the NTSB said in the 2014 Most Wanted List. "Increasing the use of available occupant protection systems and improving crashworthiness to preserve survivable space can mean the difference between life and death."
The board summarized their recommendation in this way -- "Whether traveling by air, rail, bus, or car, every occupant should be properly restrained."
Simultaneously, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has shut down more than a dozen private bus companies — nearly half which it deemed "imminent hazards" — across the nation since the 2013 Irving crash.
Unlike Thursday's crash in California, the April 2013 crash on President George Bush Turnpike was blamed on the driver of the tour bus chartered to take senior citizens to an Oklahoma casino. The Texas Department of Public Safety found driver Loyd Rieve at fault for the crash, but a Dallas grand jury declined to indict him for negligent homicide in February 2014.
Three people died in the casino charter bus crash, including 81-year-old trip organizer "Casino" Sue Taylor, 82-year-old Alice Stanley and 69-year-old Paula Hahn. About 40 people were injured in the crash.
Rieve still faces more than a dozen lawsuits in the crash. Several of them are scheduled for trial later this year.