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Bus seat belt laws in limbo 45 years later

| Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, 5:48 p.m.

WASHINGTON — When 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 waiting for the government to act on seat belts and measures to protect bus passengers.

During 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 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 almost 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.

In 2009, the safety board said government inaction was partly responsible for the severity of injuries in a rollover crash near Mexican Hat, Utah, which killed 9 skiers and injured 43. Then-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood promised the department would act to improve motorcoach safety, including requiring seat belts.

Last year, when that hadn't happened, Congress wrapped bus safety improvements into a larger transportation bill, which was signed into law. Regulations requiring seat belts on new buses were due in September, but are under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Regulations on windows and roofs are due by Sept. 30, but safety advocates said they doubt the government will meet that deadline because it is less than a year away and regulations haven't been proposed.

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