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Rules Lag To Help Passengers Escape Crashed Buses

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Safety standards to make large buses easier for passengers to escape after a crash have not been implemented, 15 years after accident investigators called for new rules.

A tractor-trailer truck and a bus transporting high school students collided late Thursday near Orland, Calif. Ten people were killed in a fire that consumed both vehicles. Someone kicked out a bus window, and many of the 40 or so students aboard squeezed through before the vehicle burst into flames.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates transportation accidents, recommended in February 1999 that federal regulators issue new standards for large buses, also known as motorcoaches, so that after an accident passengers can easily open windows and emergency exits.

NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman raised the issue again at a 2011 hearing, saying the recommendation is one of many related to motorcoaches that regulators haven't acted upon.

Legislation passed by Congress the following year asked the Transportation Department to conduct research and testing on ways to prevent or mitigate fires in motorcoaches, as well as improve evacuation.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which sets vehicle standards, has been working on bus evacuation regulations since 2007, but it has not offered a proposal yet, the agency says.

"Unfortunately, motorcoach safety has historically been an orphan at NHTSA," said Jim Hall, the former accident board chairman who signed the 1999 recommendation. "This is the transportation that carries primarily older people, students and low-income people. It hasn't been a priority (for regulators)."

Motorcoaches carry about 700 million passengers a year, comparable to the domestic airline industry.

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