Implementing Technology Could Make Bus Trips Safer

Dozens of people have been killed in recent bus crashes. Three accidents this month spurred a Senate subcommittee to hold a hearing on the matter. The Transportation Department says about half of all motor coach fatalities in recent years have occurred as the result of rollovers, and about 70 percent of those killed in rollover accidents were ejected from the bus.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Dozens of Americans have died in bus crashes in recent years. Three accidents just this month prompted lawmakers to raise the issue on Capitol Hill.

NPR's Zoe Chace reports.

ZOE CHACE: The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act before Congress boils down to one thing according to its sponsor, Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Senator KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (Republican, Texas): Rollovers.

CHACE: Many of the bus crashes in the past 10 years have involved buses that flipped over when drivers lost control. Buses have a high center of gravity; they tend to flip, and the passengers inside...

Sen. HUTCHISON: They've gone through the windows or through the roofs. They haven't had seatbelts.

CHACE: No seatbelts, no shatter-proof glass, no crumple-proof roofs, says the bill's other sponsor, Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown.

Senator SHERROD BROWN (Democrat, Ohio): We know how to do them. They're commonsense safety features. But since they're not required by law, they have not installed in most American motor coaches.

CHACE: It would cost about $75,000 per bus to make these changes, says Peter Pantuso with the American Bus Association.

Mr. PETER PANTUSO (President, American Bus Association): You have on average 45 to 50 seats in a bus, and you're looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $1,500 in additional cost per seat.

CHACE: Advocates of the bill say Pantuso has no evidence to support these figures - and at the bus stop in D.C.'s Chinatown...

(Soundbite of bus engine)

CHACE: Irina Morhotova is waiting for the bus to Philly. She takes the bus about once a month. There's no seatbelt.

Ms. IRINA MORHOTOVA: Actually, I would prefer to wear a seatbelt. Really. Seriously.

CHACE: Would you pay more for seatbelts?

Ms. MORHOTOVA: Yes. Definitely.

CHACE: Ten dollars more, she says, which would get you to Philly on a Greyhound with seatbelts.

The Senate Commerce Committee plans to vote on the Brown-Hutchison bill later this spring.

Zoe Chace NPR News.

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