NHTSA proposes new bus rollover standards

New rules could be coming for America's coaches and large buses, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed standards that have been influenced by those of the European Union.

The new standards would demand that large buses undergo tests that would see the vehicles tipped off of a platform and onto a hard surface, with a particular focus on the way an impact affected its structure. According to NHTSA, the new standards would also force manufacturers to batten down the emergency doors so they'd stay shut during a rollover, and reinforce the attachments for the seats and overhead storage racks, again, so they'd stay in place.

To be fair, these all sound like fairly reasonable changes in the name of safety. They are, however, not going to be terribly cheap. NHTSA is expecting costs to manufacturers to rise between $5 and $13 million each year, with each new bus requiring an extra $282 to $507 for the changes. Other tradeoffs, including some weight gains and fuel efficiency penalties, also seem worth the benefit of two lives saved per year and four serious injuries prevented.

The blow should be softened for current coach operators, though, as only newly built buses will need to conform to the rollover standard at present. That could change, although according to The Detroit News, NHTSA said it "believes that major structural changes to the vehicle's entire sidewall and roof structure would be needed for some existing buses to meet the rollover structural integrity requirements." It scarcely needs mentioning, but NHTSA thinks that's an overly expensive proposition.

Still, NHTSA is looking at the "feasibility, benefits, and costs of any potential requirement to retrofit existing buses with stronger emergency exit mechanisms and enhanced structural integrity to increase side window glazing retention to afford a similar level of anti-ejection protection for passengers riding in existing buses." Future regulations may include the requirement of stability control.

Municipalities, meanwhile, need not fret, as school buses and public transit buses won't be required to make the changes. Nor are airport shuttle or prison buses included, as these regulations are meant for the kinds of buses that schlep people from city to city on regular routes and tourists to popular destinations.
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U.S. DOT Proposes New Regulation to Protect Motorcoach and Large Bus Passengers in Rollover Crashes

Performance requirements would ensure a sufficient level of survival space and reduce the risk of ejection in rollover crashes

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today proposed a new federal motor vehicle safety standard to protect motorcoach and other large bus passengers in rollover crashes. The proposal aims to improve the structural design of large buses to ensure that passengers are better protected in a deadly vehicle rollover by ensuring that the space around them remains sufficiently intact and the emergency exits remain operable.

"The consequences for passengers in rollover crashes are severe," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "I want passengers to know that when this Department sees opportunities to make their travel safer so that they can more confidently visit their families or get to work, we are going to do just that and we believe this proposal is a step in that direction."

Today's proposed standard would establish performance requirements that each new motorcoach and large bus must meet when subjected to a dynamic test in which the bus is tipped over from a raised platform onto a hard level surface. The proposed standard would:

Require space around occupant seating positions to be maintained to afford occupants a survivable space in a crash;
Require the seats, overhead luggage racks, and window glazing to remain attached to their mountings during and after the test; and
Require emergency exits to remain closed during the rollover test and operable after the test.
Both the proposed test procedure and performance requirements are closely modeled after the European regulations for large buses. In a separate rulemaking action to improve safety even further, the Department is planning on finalizing requirements later this year for stability control technologies in these vehicles, which would help prevent rollovers from occurring.

"The traveling public deserves safer service and peace of mind when they board a motorcoach or large bus," said NHTSA Acting Administrator David Friedman. "Stronger large bus structures, combined with seat belt use will help keep passengers secured and protected in the event of a crash."

"Approximately 700 million trips are taken on commercial buses each year. Raising the standard for a motorcoach's durability, in the event of a crash, is critical to saving the lives of the passengers inside," said FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro. "In addition to taking critical steps to improve the structural design of buses, we are committed to further increasing motorcoach safety through stricter oversight, in-depth investigations into high-risk companies, and by ensuring that drivers are properly licensed and medically fit for the job."

NHTSA's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking can be viewed in the Federal Register and members of the public will have the opportunity to comment on the proposal for 60 days. NHTSA is proposing a compliance date of three years after publication of a final rule. Read the NPRM.

For additional safety information regarding motorcoach travel or to download FMCSA's free SaferBus mobile app, visit the Look Before You Book website. As always, FMCSA urges travelers to report any unsafe bus company, vehicle or driver by calling its toll free hotline 1-888-DOT-SAFT (1-888-368-7238) or online:

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