**The story has been updated below with a statement from the American Bus Association.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a final rule requiring lap and shoulder seat belts for each passenger and driver seat on new motorcoaches and other large buses.
The new rule enhances the safety of these vehicles by significantly reducing the risk of fatalities and serious injuries in frontal crashes and the risk of occupant ejection in rollovers.
"It has taken a long time to get here, but in the end, the feeling is the U.S. DOT and the folks who have been working on this for so long got it right," said Dan Ronan, sr. director, communications, for the American Bus Association (ABA). "We are pleased with what they have come up with and think it’s going to save lives."
On average, 21 motorcoach and large bus occupants are killed and 7,934 are injured, annually, in motor vehicle crashes, according to NHTSA data. Requiring seat belts could reduce fatalities by up to 44% and reduce the number of moderate to severe injuries by up to 45%.
“While travel on motorcoaches is overall a safe form of transportation, when accidents do occur, there is the potential for a greater number of deaths and serious injuries due to the number of occupants and high speeds at which the vehicles are traveling,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “Adding seat belts to motorcoaches increases safety for all passengers and drivers, especially in the event of a rollover crash.”
The final rule, which amends Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208, applies to new over-the-road buses and to other types of new buses with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) greater than 26,000 pounds, except transit buses and school buses.
"It is a major decision, but we’ve been ahead of the curve. As it is, it’s almost impossible to buy a new bus without three-point seat belts, so I think the industry will be just fine when the new rule goes into effect," said United Motorcoach Association President/CEO Victor Parra. "We will definitely be taking a closer look at the rule itself, but a cursory review suggests it’s pretty much consistent with what we expected."
The final rule fulfills a mandate from the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). Beginning in November 2016, newly manufactured buses will be required to be equipped with lap and shoulder belts for each driver and passenger seat.
Several companies have already begun voluntarily purchasing buses that include seat belts and the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) will continue encouraging the industry to speed the adoption of lap and shoulder seat belts prior to the mandatory deadline.
In addition, the U.S. DOT will continue moving forward with other initiatives to improve motorcoach safety as outlined in the Motorcoach Safety Action Plan.
The (ABA) also released the following statement on the new rule:
The American Bus Association supports efforts by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other federal agencies to help ensure the safety of the traveling public. The seat belt final rule released today is an important step in a larger process of vehicle and operational changes mandated by the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act.
The motorcoach industry worked with the U.S. Department of Transportation to ensure that sufficient research and testing went into crafting the new seat belt standard released today. In fact, most new motorcoaches sold since 2009 already incorporate three-point seat belts.
The department is engaged in additional rulemakings that will further enhance the safety of motorcoaches, including changes to roof design, window design, fire suppression systems and stability control systems. ABA looks forward to further research into these areas, as well.
ABA believes that safety is not the function of one system but must be the product of integrated design. The motorcoach industry will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Transportation on next steps to ensure the right changes are made for drivers, passengers and operators.
The North American motorcoach industry provides nearly 700 million passenger trips annually. Motorcoach travel remains the safest mode of surface transportation.