WASHINGTON, D.C. — After a drunken driver on a California highway slammed into a bus carrying passengers to Las Vegas, killing 19, investigators said a lack of seat belts contributed to the high death toll. But 45 years later, safety advocates are still waiting for the government to act on seat belts and other measures to protect bus passengers.
Over the years, the National Transportation Safety Board has repeated its call for seat belts or some other means to keep passengers in their seats during crashes involving the large buses used for tours, charters and intercity passenger service. About half of all such motorcoach fatalities are the result of rollovers, and about 70 percent of those killed in rollover accidents were ejected from the bus.
The board has also repeatedly recommended stronger windows that don’t pop out from the force of a collision and help keep passengers from being ejected, and roofs that withstand crushing. Those recommendations are nearly as old as the seat belt recommendation. No requirements have been put in place, even though all have long been standard safety features in cars.
Hundreds of motorcoach passengers have died and even more have been injured, many severely, since the board made its initial recommendations. Victims have included college baseball players in Atlanta, Vietnamese churchgoers in Texas, skiers in Utah, gamblers returning to New York’s Chinatown, and members of a high school girls’ soccer team en route to a playoff match.
“In 1998, my father was launched like a missile (out) a bus window and landed on his head on pavement. He is now permanently brain damaged and cannot even take care of himself,” one woman wrote regulators, urging them to act. “This issue has been around for decades and it needs to change, NOW, before more people die or are severely injured like my father.”