​Students should care about bus safety

Sunday’s accident highlights need to address road problem

Earlier this week, a Home Ride bus with students from U.Va., Radford and Virginia Tech overturned outside of Richmond, injuring 34 of its 50 passengers. While the incident may appear isolated for U.Va. students, transportation safety — especially for interstate buses — is important for students since they frequently take low-budget buses. Inadequate regulation can cost lives.

Students account for at least 21 percent of passengers on motorcoaches, or passenger buses that can carry up to 55 passengers, according to Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. For motorcoach crashes, a primary concern is occupant ejection, in which a passenger is thrown from his seat. Such ejections are especially dangerous in the case of rollover events — and approximately 29 percent of fatal motorcoach crashes result in rollover, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Despite the fact that intercity buses may have seat belts, more than half of the deaths in motorcoach crashes are the result of occupant ejections, and in rollover events, 70 percent of passenger fatalities stem from ejections.

Motorcoach crashes happen far more frequently than other vehicular accidents. A 2012 study from the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine demonstrates that buses and commercial motor vehicles have a higher likelihood of a fatal crash involvement per registered vehicle than passenger vehicles and light trucks. On average annually, motorcoach carriers were involved in 1,003 reported crashes, 32 fatal crashes resulting in 44 deaths and 505 nonfatal crashes that injured a minimum of one person. While accidents in general may be rare, when they happen, they cause high numbers of fatal or serious injuries. And since interstate motorcoach travel is currently among the most rapidly growing modes of transport, we have reason to believe such accidents will only increase.

Part of the issue, it seems, is that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration does not monitor these buses closely enough. Motorcoaches have no roof strength or seat belt requirements — even for school buses, for which seat belts are required in only six states. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed new safety regulations, including requiring passenger lap and shoulder seat belts on over-the-road buses and new buses with a high gross vehicle weight rating, in order to lower the risk of occupant ejection, but this proposal has not yet been implemented. Requiring seat belt use and strengthening vehicles would go a long way in making these buses safer.

Students use motorcoaches with some regularity, which means highway and transportation safety matters specifically for our community. Given Home Ride’s accident Sunday, motorcoach-related injury could affect us more than we think.

related stories