For decades, advocates have been fighting to mandate safety protections in buses, similar to those required in cars. Finally seven years after Rep. John Lewis introduced the legislation requiring safety protections in motorcoaches, his efforts and that of safety advocates have finally come to fruition. The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act (MESA) H.R. 873 sponsored by Rep. John Lewis passed both the House and the Senate as part of the Surface Transportation Bill and is scheduled to be signed into law some time this week by President Obama.
Rep. Lewis began his efforts after receiving a frustrated phone call from a Grady Memorial Hospital surgeon named Dr. Jeffrey Salomone. Salomone was treating victims of the Bluffton University school bus crash which occurred in Atlanta on March 2, 2007. He suggested that had the victims been wearing seat belts he believed many more individuals could have been saved and spared significant trauma. The university's baseball team was traveling down I-75 in Atlanta to participate in a game in Florida. The bus fell off of an unfinished exit and crashed on to the highway below. Lewis began legislative efforts immediately. In 2010, 33,000 people died and over 2 million were injured due to motorcoach accidents.
"These safety requirements are long overdue," said Rep. John Lewis. "Those of us who have been concerned about this issue have been fighting to save lives. Though motorcoach crashes are not as frequent as car crashes, they are often more deadly. Because simple safeguards, like seat belts, are not provided in buses, thousands of people die who might have been saved can end up dying when buses crash. This legislation will save millions of lives."
The motorcoach safety provisions will implement overdue recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board to improve passenger protection and industry oversight. A partial list of the new safety requirements that protect passengers are:
· Safety belts and stronger seating systems to ensure occupants stay in their seats in a crash.
· Improved commercial driver training. Currently, no training is required by Federal regulation.
· Anti-ejection glazing windows to prevent passengers from being easily thrown outside the motorcoach.
· Strong, crush-resistant roofs that can withstand rollovers.
· Improved protection against fires by reducing flammability of the motorcoach interior, and better training for operators in the case of fire.
· A National Commercial Motor Vehicle Medical Registry to ensure that only medically qualified examiners conduct physical examinations of drivers and a medical certificate process to ensure that all certificates are valid and no unqualified operator is allowed to drive.
· Strengthened motorcoach vehicle safety inspections, including roadside inspections, safety audits, and state and motor carrier programs for identifying vehicle defects.
· Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs) with real-time capabilities to track precise vehicle location that cannot be tampered with by the driver.