Portable Seatbelt Update, March 2013
In partnership with the Mechanical Engineering Department at UMass, we continue with our work on the portable and retrofit seatbelt. We still wait to hear that the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2009 [MESA S.554] has been passed by Congress. This law will require all new motor coaches going forward be equipped with 3-point restraint systems. At the same time there are 35,000 older motor coaches without seatbelts on American roads right now. The MESA bill may mandate that existing buses be retrofitted with 3-point systems. The cost of putting new seating with seatbelt systems in place in older buses is estimated to be in excess of $40,000. It is not economically feasible for many older buses. The retrofit seatbelt could be the cost-effective alternative that allows existing motor coaches to remain on the road. The present focus is on the engineering design and analysis of the retrofit system, the performance of the various mechanical and structural components, including the baseplate, the transmission of forces from the seatbelt assembly to the bus floor, the integrity of the retrofit seatbelt, and the effectiveness of the seatbelt system under rollover and frontal collision scenarios. To that end, Sara’s Wish Foundation is continuing its pursuit of funding sources for further development. Seatbelts save lives.
In 1997, USA Today published a cover story “The Perils of Studying Abroad” showcasing the bus crash in India as a watershed tragedy that was then spurring study abroad programs around the country to action on improving safety. In that article, the letters and urgings of Anne and Charlie Schewe to address safety of our children going abroad were said to be central to this movement. Sixteen years later, much has improved as International Program administrators hold programs to educate study abroad faculty in safety procedures and standards, as NAFSA, the governing association, holds sessions at their conferences on risk management and safety, and as faculties around the country use our video to get students about to embark on a study abroad experience to embed safety in their daily behavior. In November 2012, Charlie spoke at a safety meeting of faculty where he and Anne were applauded for changing the safety culture of the entire study abroad profession.
In partnership with the Mechanical Engineering Department at UMass, we continue with our work on the portable and retro-fit seatbelt. We still wait to hear that the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2009 [MESA S.554] has been passed by the U.S. Senate. This law will require all new motorcoaches going forward be equipped with 3-point restraint systems. At the same time there are 35,000 older motorcoaches without seatbelts on American roads right now. The MESA bill may mandate that existing buses be retrofitted with 3-point systems. The cost of putting new seating with seatbelt systems in place in older buses is estimated to be about $40,000 or more. It is not economically feasible for many older buses. The retro-fit seatbelt could be the cost-effective alternative that saves the remaining lives of existing motorcoaches. To that end, we are continuing our pursuit of a grant from the American Bus Association for further development.
Our work on the portable seatbelt continues to make good progress. It has been crash-tested now with very satisfactory results. Dr. Chandrashekhar Thorbole, the chief mechanical engineer at The Engineering Institute in Farmington, Arkansas, is generously offering his expertise to adjust the design of our prototype to incorporate the features of convenience, ease of use, and low weight found important in our market studies. We are presently focusing on the domestic bus industry which, it is believed, will soon be mandated to have seatbelts on new buses going forward. We hope that our portable seatbelt will also prove useful in retrofitting older buses.
Read more about the current status of this project.
Sara’s Wish Foundation Tackles Retrofitting Existing U.S. Motorcoaches with Seatbelts
After a number of years of debate, in December, 2013 the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act [MESA] which mandates beginning in 2016 all U.S. motorcoaches must have seats with three-point safety restraints. 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…$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’ College of Engineering have been developing over the past decade a patented portable seatbelt. And the understanding of this portable invention allowed the engineers to adapt the design to a lower cost, now provisionally patented, retrofit design that would reduce costs of a retrofit to less than $10,000. Anne and Charlie Schewe along with their College of Engineering partners in the design, Professors Sundar Krishnamurty and John Collura, have been working in Washington to gain the support of key constituencies. All organizations and agencies have voiced strong support for this Sara’s Wish Foundation initiative. While governmental and industry organizations supported no retrofit in the MESA bill, they strongly preferred to have a motorcoach retrofit but were compelled to oppose so as not to drive many bus companies out of business. SWF and its partners have the backing of the American Bus Association and its president, Peter Pantuso, has attended numerous governmental meetings with SWF to show support. 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 concern for the retrofit and the solution that it has. We are getting traction for our efforts 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’ College of Engineering through the assistance of Professor John Collura recently has received an award of $50,000 from the State of Massachusetts Department of Transportation 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.