Seatbelt Initiatives

Increasing United States Seatbelt Usage on Motorcoaches, 2017-Present

This initiative came from Anne and Charlie Schewe’s strong belief that their daughter Sara would not have died in a bus crash if she had been wearing a seatbelt.  According to the National Transportation Safety Board, accidents in the United States kill twenty-one bus passengers a year and injure more than 7,900.  The most common cause of fatalities is rollovers, the board says.  Rollovers cause 55% of these fatalities while two-thirds of fatalities stem from ejection.  Wearing seat belts reduces the likelihood of death in rollovers by 77%.  Increased awareness of the need for seatbelts in commercial motorcoaches and other forms of buses has led US Congress to pass the 2013 Final Rule [78 FR 70416] titled “Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards: Occupant Crash Protection” mandating the installation of lap/shoulder seatbelts in all new motorcoaches manufactured after November 2016.  Approximately 1200 new buses are produced each year.  As well, an estimated 35,000 buses are already on the road today.  Some of these existing motorcoaches are presently voluntarily equipped with seatbelts. More and more passengers will be presented with safety restraint systems going forward.  But will they use them?  Studies show that fastening one’s seatbelt when it is available on a motorcoach has been extremely low.  Estimates of seatbelt usage revolve around 10% and lower.

Sara’s Wish Foundation has partnered with the Center for Transportation at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to design a motivational marketing campaign to substantially increase seatbelt restraint usage.  A Safety Summit was held in the Dirksen Building on the Hill in Washington, DC, on October 26, 2017.  The goal of this workshop was to bring together individuals with varied perspectives to generate ideas about how to improve seatbelt usage.  Those participating came from government agencies [e.g., NHTSA, FMCSA], advertising agencies, insurance companies, motorcoach and seatbelt manufacturers, associations supporting bus transportation, and road safety advocates.  A summary of this report can be found here.  A result of this meeting was the development of a Task Force of concerned parties that work to direct SWF and the UMass Transportation Center’s efforts.

The points of greatest impact to obtain motorcoach passenger compliance with greater usage appear to be the time period between ticket purchase and through the entire bus trip experience.  A pilot program has begun with Peter Pan Bus Lines to determine the impact of various messaging media.  This program begins with setting benchmarks for usage by observing actual usage on various bus routes, designing and putting into place the marketing message components, and then measuring the impact of these message elements.  Messages will be repeated multiple times during this period.  The campaign to persuade buckling up includes a logo and slogan [“Be Safe…Sit, Click and Ride!”], banners, labels, videos and social media support.

Retrofitting Existing American Motorcoaches with Seatbelts

After a number of years of debate, in December 2013, the United States Senate and House of Representatives passed into law the Final Rule [78 FR 70416] titled “Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards: Occupant Crash Protection” mandating the installation of lap/shoulder seatbelts in all new motorcoaches manufactured after November 2016.  However, the 30,000 existing buses on the road today were not mandated to be retrofitted because of the estimated cost of such a retrofit of $40,000 to $80,000 per 54-seat bus. Such an expenditure would compel a large portion of the 3500 independent motorcoach companies to go out of business.

Sara’s Wish Foundation and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst  Department of Mechanical Engineering have designed a patented retrofit seatbelt at a lower cost.  Now provisionally patented, this retrofit design would reduce costs of a retrofit to less than $15,000 per motorcoach.  Anne and Charlie Schewe, along with their College of Engineering partners in the design, Professors Sundar Krishnamurty, Douglas Eddy and John Collura, have gained the support of key constituencies.  Governmental agencies and activitist organizations concerned with road safety have voiced strong support for this Sara’s Wish Foundation initiative.  SWF and its partners have the backing of the American Bus Association and its president, Peter Pantuso, and have participated in numerous governmental/industry/social responsibility meetings to show and gain support. For example, the retrofit team has met with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the National Safety Transportation Agency, and high-level administrators in the Department of Transportation to voice SWF’s commitment for the retrofit and the solution that it has. We have traction in this retrofit initiative, and as always, hope to save lives in Sara’s name. That, we believe, is Sara’s wish!

The University of Massachusetts-Amherst Center for Transportation  through the assistance of Professor John Collura received an award of $50,000 from the State of Massachusetts Department of Transportation allowing completion of the retrofit design as well as the crash testing of the design. American Seating Corporation, the largest motorcoach seating manufacturer, is actively pursuing licensing the patent and bringing the retrofit to the industry.  This retrofit initiative is fully “on the road.”

that will allow completion of the final aspects of the retrofit design as well as the crash testing of the design. American Seating Corporation, the largest motorcoach seating manufacturer, has graciously provided a bus seat for testing. So this retrofit initiative is in fully “on the road” during 2015.