Misplaced Interest in Rollover Protection for Motorcoaches

Particularly with the spate of catastrophic motorcoach accidents in the past couple of years, almost always when drivers fell asleep at the wheel, USDOT’s National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) is proposing new standards for rollover protection for motorcoaches. At the moment, only school buses have such a requirement, whereas motorcoach roofs are already several times stronger than those of school buses. However, school buses do not have oversized panoramic windows. And the hours when most of school bus drivers operate are normal business hours, whereas motorcoaches operate almost around-the-clock with virtually no effective control to keep their drivers from experiencing “bus lag,” and falling asleep at the wheel.

To me, these requirements are not cost-effective compared to other things I feel should obviously be done – like removing the drivers and companies most likely to cause these accidents from the road. Further, of the eight catastrophic accidents I’ve investigated as an expert witness, only one rolled over several times (and only two passengers were ejected), while one rolled over only a quarter-turn (and none were ejected, even though 17 were killed). But the general public and public agencies have a fascination with rollovers.

According to Bus and Motorcoach News (September 1, 2014 issue), the motorcoach rollover protection model proposed has very similar goals to those of school buses: Keep the windows from popping out, reinforce overhead interior package bins, limit roof “deflection,” and keep emergency exits and roof hatches from collapsing so that they remain operable after the rollover. One new difference is that the motorcoach rollover tests will be “dynamic:” The buses will be rolled over from a raised platform. School bus rollover tests are performed simply by placing a static load on the roof equal to 1.5 times the vehicle’s unladen weight. To meet these requirements, considerable structural modifications will have to be made, making the buses heavier, more costly, less fuel efficient, and most interestingly, with a greater propensity to rollover in the first place, since the reinforced roof structures will raise the vehicle’s center-of-gravity. But the installation of three-point seatbelts in motorcoaches that began in 2009 will combine with these other features to enhance their overall safety, and eliminate ejections (when the seatbelts are at least used). Full compliance is scheduled for 2017. The rulemaking may be found at www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For more information about catastrophic motorcoach accidents, and the genuine reasons most of them occur, see “Fatigue and Catastrophic Accidents” at http://www.transalt.com/content/fatigue-and-catastrophic-accidents. For information about driver fatigue, see articles authored by TA President Ned Einstein for National Bus Trader magazine: