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Seat belts being phased in on large tour buses

Emergency personnel respond to the scene of a multiple fatality accident where a tour bus careened through a guardrail along an icy Oregon highway and several hundred feet down a steep embankment, authorities said, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012 about 15 miles east of Pendleton, Ore. The charter bus carrying about 40 people lost control around 10:30 a.m. on the snow- and ice-covered lanes of Interstate 84, according to the Oregon State Police. (AP Photo/East Oregonian, Tim Trainor)

The National Transportation and Safety Board and the Oregon State Police say it will take at least a month to fully investigate the deadly bus accident on I-84 near Pendleton over the weekend. Nine people were killed. Dozens of other were injured when the bus slid off the freeway and down an embankment.

The accident has rekindled the debate over requiring seat belts on buses this size.

The NTSB got its first good look at the crash site on Tuesday. One of the first things investigators will do is look at the driver, who some survivors have said, was going too fast for the icy conditions.

“They look at a 72-hour history of the driver,” said Mark Rosenker, the former head of the NTSB and current CBS analyst. “When did he rest last? What did he consume before taking the wheel?”

Rosenker said these large motor coaches are safe, but when they do crash the death tolls and injuries are usually high.

Every time there is a fatal crash, the question is raised regarding seat belts. They have not been required on these large buses, but Rosenker said that is changing because of recent studies by the NTSB and the National Highway Traffic Administration. Rosenker said new requirements are going into effect.

“They’re going to have safety belt restraint systems built into them,” he said. “They’re going to have tougher glass. They’re going to have stronger roof standards.”

Some people question why current buses aren’t retrofitted with belts to make them safer too. The industry says it would be too expensive. Rosenker said it would be difficult to do because the buses have to be built with the restraint systems in mind.

“The floor boards and the actual flooring of the vehicle itself has to be able to withstand the stresses and the pulls and the G-Forces, and they’re not built that way right now.”

One of the other reasons there are so many fatalities when these big buses crash, Rosenker said, can be blamed on a new design. They are built with much bigger windows than they used to be which means there’s more opportunity to be ejected.

“The older motor coaches, the very old ones back in the ’70’s and ’80’s, didn’t have such large windows,” he said.
“Today because of the way the vehicles were built they have a significant amount of window space. In a rollover accident, these windows break-open very easily, and people are ejected.”

Of course, you would have to get passengers to put those seat belts on for them to be effective.

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