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“Why do more people have to die to make the point that we need some common sense safety standards?" said John Betts, father of one of five Bluffton University baseball players who died when their team’s bus plunged off an overpass in March 2007. Four years later, a Pennsylvania family is faced with the same tragedy after a bus accident on the New Jersey Turnpike last month took the life of a 21-year-old student. Both men were ejected from the bus they were traveling in; seat belts likely would have saved them. This accident was just two days after the fatal New York bus accident that killed 15 people and seriously injured eight others when the driver lost control causing the bus to flip on its side and slide into a highway sign post, shearing the roof.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) first recommended in 1968 that buses be equipped with seat belts. According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in seat belts in buses would reduce the risk of fatal injuries in rollover crashes by 77 percent, yet the industry leaders have objected saying that seat belts could be expensive and force many small bus operators out of business. Last year’s proposed legislation died in the final days of the Senate session after Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn (R) put a hold on the measure that had won unanimous consent from the rest of the body.

Joan Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator who is co-chair of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said the cost of adding seat belts, electronic stability devices, fire-suppression equipment, and other safety features would be less than $20,000 per bus according to suppliers of the equipment. She felt the cost could be more than covered by a 10-cent-per-ticket increase in passenger fares; not a lot of money compared to your life.

The series of recent bus fatalities have helped put bus safety back in the spotlight as Congress gets ready to debate two proposed bills this year. Congressman Bill Shuster has introduced the Bus Uniform Standards and Enhanced Safety (BUSES) Act of 2011 which calls on the NHTSA to set forth rules, after research and testing, to improve vehicle crash worthiness through seat belts, enhanced roof and window strength, enhanced emergency egress and fire prevention standards.

The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act, would require higher standards of safety for motor coaches, commuter, charter, and tour bus services, and their drivers. This bill would require:

  • Seat belts to be installed in all new buses as well as retrofitting all older buses with safety seat belts.

  • Stronger seats and windows to prevent passengers from being ejected from the vehicle.

  • Crush-resistant roofs strong enough to withstand rollovers.

  • Better training and education for commercial bus drivers.

  • Strengthened motor vehicle inspections.

  • Tracking technology similar to black boxes used in airplanes.

  • The establishment of a National Commercial Motor Vehicle Medical Registry to ensure no unqualified operator is allowed to drive.

“Buses and motor coaches remain a popular and cost-effective way for millions of Americans to travel every day for work and for pleasure. With recent events like the terrible bus crash in New York in mind, it is essential that the traveling public is protected.” Shuster said.

Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by plaintiffs involved in pending, personal injury litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association as well as their ABA Advisory Committee, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.

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