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Published: Friday, 9/19/2008

Bluffton groups ask Congress for bill on bus safety

COX NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON Parents of people killed or injured in motor coach accidents pleaded at a Senate hearing yesterday for tougher federal safety standards, but it s unclear whether Congress will be able to pass a bill tightening standards before it adjourns for the year.

A bill introduced by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R., Texas) would beef up safety standards in motor coaches by requiring seat belts and windows that prevent passengers from being ejected.

That bill was spurred in part by a March, 2007, motor coach accident in Atlanta that killed five members of the baseball team from Bluffton University in Ohio as well as the bus driver and his wife. Last month, 17 motor coach passengers en route to a religious festival died in Sherman, Texas, on their way to a religious festival.

John Betts, a Bryan man who lost his son David in the Atlanta crash, was among those who testified at yesterday s hearing.

Mr. Betts, occasionally choking back sobs, told how one week after he lost his son in March, 2007, he read a 1999 National Transportation Safety Board report calling for seat belts in motor coaches. He said he was shocked yesterday to hear a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration official testify that such a rule could be enacted within two years. If that had happened, he said, motor coaches could have had seat belts long before his son died after being thrown from the Bluffton motor coach.

Stephen Forman, whose daughter survived a 2006 crash in Texas that killed two members of the Beaumont West Brook High School soccer team, told the Senate Commerce subcommittee how his daughter and another girl were trapped for more than an hour after the motor coach they were riding in flipped on its side. His daughter has had multiple surgeries on her arm since that accident, and the other girl had her arm amputated. Mr. Forman expressed frustration that little has been done to give motor coaches the same standards as other passenger vehicles.

Mr. Brown said he and Ms. Hutchison are optimistic that his bill could pass before Congress adjourns, which could happen as early as next week.

Opponents of the measure say it is too costly and that motor coaches are still one of the safest modes of transportation. The American Bus Association said it favors rigorous scientific research before requiring new features such as seat belts on motor coaches.

But the bill itself received backing yesterday from the acting chair of the National Transportation Safety Board and the acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

David Kelly, acting administrator of NHTSA, called the bill a step in the right direction.

Mr. Brown and Ms. Hutchison said such measures are overdue.

You can t tell me putting seat belts on a bus is too costly, Ms. Hutchison said. It does not wash.



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