It has been eight years since Congress passed a new law designed to make motorcoach buses more safe, but the U.S. Department of Transportation has not yet written rules to put most of the law’s provisions into effect, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said on Wednesday.
“You have this whole deregulatory environment in the government: That no regulation’s better than regulation,” Brown, D-Ohio, said during a conference call. “And when you do that you shortchange what we ought to be doing.”
His comments came in the wake of the death on Jan. 5 of Jaremy Vazquez, 9, of Dayton, and Eileen Zelis Aria, 35, an Ohio State University graduate, who were thrown from a motorcoach during a crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Three others died in the multi-vehicle crash.
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A Dayton Daily News investigation published on Sunday found that bus safety reforms approved by Congress in 2012 or recommended by safety advocates have not been put in place even as dozens of bus occupants — and hundreds of pedestrians and people in other vehicles — are killed annually in crashes involving buses.
A spokesman for the DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Friday said a rule was issued requiring seat belts for motorcoaches manufactured after November 2016 and a final rule for bus rollover structural integrity is planned for this year. The spokesman said studies and rules implementing other parts of the 2012 law are in various stages.
After a cost-benefit analysis the department decided against requiring that older buses, like the one that crashed in Pennsylvania, be retrofitted with seat belts.
Brown was joined in Wednesday’s conference call by John Betts, whose son David Betts was killed in 2007 when a motorcoach carrying the Bluffton University baseball team from Ohio crashed in Georgia. Betts, of Bryan, pushed for the 2012 bus safety law Congress passed after promising Bluffton survivors he would work to get rules in place to make motorcoaches more safe, including mandating seat belts that safety advocates had recommended for decades.
“We are the parents of one death too many due to delay tactics,” an emotional Betts said of he and his wife, Joy. “That delay tactic had an impact on our lives. ”
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In a letter to USDOT Secretary Elaine Chao, Brown and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, on Wednesday asked the department to issue rules for the law requiring crush-resistant roofs on motorcoaches, anti-ejection glazing on glass windows and new fire safety standards. They also asked Chao to reconsider retrofitting older buses.
Betts said he and his wife thought that with passage of the 2012 law something good had come from the Bluffton tragedy. But with the USDOT’s failure to complete rules putting the law into place he said his promise to the survivors is a “promise partially kept.”
“I should have known better. In God we trust. All others bring data,” Betts said. “It feels like the department of transportation has performed a smoke-and-mirrors routine.”
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