Bluffton bus crash inspires bill to upgrade bus safety
Senators are proposing seat belts on charter buses
By John Seewer
TOLEDO, Ohio — In the hours after his son and four other Bluffton University baseball players died in a bus crash, John Betts made a promise to team members who survived.
He told them something good would come out of the accident. Since then, Betts has pushed for improved safety on long-haul buses
Now, two U.S. senators have proposed requiring seat belts on charter buses and passenger buses that travel from state to state.
The legislation introduced Thursday also would require changes designed to prevent passengers from being thrown out windows and increase training for drivers. The proposal doesn’t apply to city buses or school buses.
“There’s no question this will save lives,” Betts said.
David Betts, a sophomore second baseman, was among the five players killed when the charter bus they rode in toppled off an overpass in Atlanta nearly eight months ago. The bus driver and his wife also died.
Two of the players killed and some who were injured were thrown out of the bus and pinned underneath it. Only seats in the first few rows had seat belts.
The National Transportation Safety Board for years has recommended improved restraint systems, including seat belts, that many experts say could prevent passengers from being tossed around and ejected.
Sens. Sherrod Brown, DOhio, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, also want stronger bus roofs that will hold up in rollover accidents and more protection against fire.
A bus in Texas carrying elderly people fleeing Hurricane Rita in 2005 caught fire because of an unlubricated wheel axle, killing 23 passengers.
Bus industry representatives say more testing is needed to determine what would make the vehicles safer.
“If there’s a better way to protect people on motor coaches, we’re all for it,” said Victor Parra, president of the United Motorcoach Association. “Let’s look at the best way to do it.”
Bus windows have been designed so that they open easily during an accident or fire to allow passengers to escape, he said. And there’s no guarantee that those onboard will wear seat belts, Parra added.
Most of the players on the Bluffton bus were asleep and stretched out across their seats or in the aisle when bus crashed. “Obviously, seat belts wouldn’t have helped them,” Parra said.