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Death of Bluffton baseball players in bus accident inspires proposed legislation

11/8/2007

TOLEDO, Ohio -- Two U.S. senators, motivated by a bus crash
that killed five college baseball players, on Thursday proposed
requiring seat belts on long-haul buses.

The proposed legislation also would require changes to bus
windows that would help prevent passengers from being thrown out of
the vehicles during accidents.

Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas,
also want better training for drivers, stronger bus roofs that
would hold up in rollover accidents and more protection against
fire. The legislation would reduce deaths and injuries in bus
accidents, they said.

They announced their proposal nearly eight months after a bus
carrying Bluffton University's baseball team toppled from an
overpass in Atlanta. Five players and the bus driver and his wife
died.

Some of those killed or injured were thrown out of the bus and
pinned underneath it. Only seats in the first few rows had seat
belts.

In 2005, a bus in Texas carrying elderly people fleeing
Hurricane Rita caught fire because of an unlubricated wheel axle,
killing 23 passengers.

The senators' proposal applies to motorcoaches that travel from
state to state, not city buses or school buses.

"There's no question this will save lives," said John Betts,
whose son David was among the players killed.

John Betts examined the wreckage of the bus his son was riding
in and came away convinced that seat belts would make buses safer.

"Every seat in the bus was intact," Betts said. "If you're in
the seat, you're intact."

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.

The National Transportation Safety Board has for years
recommended improved restraint systems, including seat belts, that
many experts say could prevent passengers from being tossed around
and ejected.

Brown criticized the bus industry for failing to adopt the
recommendations made by the NTSB. "They want to stall," he said.
"I was hoping they'd want to be more cooperative."

About 631 million passenger trips are made by motor coach each
year, according to the American Bus Association. Federal figures
show an average of about 23 bus deaths per year over the past
decade.