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Bus Accident Brings Seat Belt Use Front and Center

Thumbnail image for bus on mountain road A recent Oregon bus accident has again raised the issue of seat belts on buses — something that the federal government has been advocating for many years. As an Atlanta bus accident attorney, I too would like to see this safety measure put in place.

The accident occurred in rural Eastern Oregon where there was said to be some ice on the road. The driver lost control of the bus as it careened through a guard rail and fell 200 feet down an embankment. Nine passengers were killed and 38 others were injured in the crash. It is amazing that more lives were not lost.

Several survivors of this terrible crash have stated that passengers were ejected from the bus. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will be investigating the crash for such things as road conditions, weather, driver error and other factors.

The issue of seat belts in these situations is a very real safety issue. This is because passengers might survive the initial impact, but be ejected from the vehicle. Such ejections can cause serious and fatal injuries. Seat belts are considered a positive safety measure to avoid ejection in a bus accident, but they are not required on buses in the United States. Many passengers were ejected from the bus through broken windows. This is the subject of great concern for safety officials and has been one of the more common ways that passengers are either killed or injured in these accidents.

The US Department of Transportation has issued a notice of proposed rule making to amend the Federal motor vehicle safety standard (FMVSS) on occupant crash protection (FMVSS No. 208) that would require lap/shoulder seat belts for each passenger seating position in new motorcoaches.This NPRM also proposes to require a lap/shoulder belt for the motorcoach and large school bus driver’s seating positions, which currently are required to have either a lap or a lap/shoulder belt. There has been a concern that retrofitting all commercial buses with these would be very costly for operators, but that requiring them on new motor coaches would be a major safety improvement.

The bus is owned by a Canadian company with a good safety record and was returning from Las Vegas when the accident happened. Many of the 48 passengers were exchange students from South Korea. Many passengers were injured and taken to various hospitals in the neighboring states.

Due to the fact that the speed of the bus is not known, it is unclear whether driver error is a cause. There are reports that some passengers were concerned about the weather conditions, route safety and speed of the bus. The bus was traveling in a westbound direction and after hitting a center concrete barrier, ended up crossing lanes and plunging down an embankment. Those responding to rescue passengers had to deal with a large hillside to recover the deceased and injured passengers.

There is concern that weather may have played a part in this accident. The location is mountainous and is known for its steep descent and changeable weather conditions. The road had been treated previously with sand and in a sad twist, the sand truck was some distance behind the bus when it crashed, making the sand truck driver and early responder to the scene. The road is sometimes closed due to weather and chains can be required depending on local maintenance crews.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, or a bus accident, please contact me for a free consultation with regard to your legal rights and medical recovery. The Law Offices of P. Charles Scholle has offices in Gwinnett County and throughout the metro-Atlanta region.