Many have called for a review of safety standards for both trucks and buses in light of the tragic crash between a Fed Ex truck and a charter bus that killed 10 people in Northern California earlier this month. While the National Traffic and Safety Board (NTSB) has pushed for “seatbelts, emergency exits and fire-safety rules to protect bus passengers” for years, legislation at the federal level is a slow-moving process. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, “requiring seatbelts could reduce fatalities by up to 44 percent and reduce the number of moderate to severe injuries by up to 45 percent” in relation to the number of large bus passengers that are killed and injured every year . However, it wasn’t until just this past November that the NHTSA issued a new federal rule requiring lap and shoulder belts for each passenger and driver seat on tour or charter buses manufactured after November 2016. While this rule is a substantial advancement for safety standards, it should be the first step of many.
Legislation requiring safety features be incorporated into design of tour and charter buses is important, but perhaps the bigger issue to tackle is having passengers make use of existing valuable safety features. In the recent tragedy in Northern California, passengers were found dead and thrown from the bus despite the fact that the Silverado Stages’ charter bus was a brand new 2014 model and did have seat belts. NTSB member Mark Rosekind points out that it is tough to ensure passengers consistently use seatbelts on any bus unless it is federally mandated, which could be a great next step for the NHTSA.
The second aspect of this tragic crash that needs to be examined is the massive flames engulfing both truck and bus following the crash. As of now, there are conflicting reports regarding whether the Fed Ex truck was on fire prior to the collision. Either way, the accident must be investigated thoroughly to ensure that safety features in the charter bus worked properly, allowing the passengers enough time to escape before being killed by the fire. The government is considering implementing mandatory fire-suppression systems in 2015. However, these systems are designed to suppress fires started in wheels and engines and aren’t equipped to handle the huge blazes that follow collisions. While it is almost impossible to put out fires of such immense size, the focus should be on making these larger buses easier to escape to reduce casualties. Hopefully we can learn from this truly heartbreaking event and prevent another calamity like this from occurring.