Nightly News   |  November 20, 2013

New bus safety regulations aim to save riders’ lives

It’s a new rule that safety experts say is long overdue: the National Highway and Safety Administration announced new commercial busses will be required to have seatbelts starting in 2016. NBC’s Stephanie Gosk reports.

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>>> good evening. we begin with a federal government action that affects the way millions of americans get around. for half a century in this country, safety advocates have been pushing for seat belt laws in buses which, after all, carry millions of passengers every year across america and are a commuting staple for millions every day in our urban areas . now a change is coming. we learned today the government will require seat belts on some buses. while it's something of a safety landmark, there are lots of exceptions and lots of questions as to why. it's where we begin tonight with nbc's stephanie gosk at the always teeming port authority bus terminal in midtown. good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. this is the busiest bus terminal in the nation. last year roughly 65 million passengers shuttled through here. very few of them had the option to use seat belts . that's about to change. when commercial bus crashes happen, the injury and death toll can be high. 15 people were killed in march of 2011 when a bus flipped on i-95 in new york city . rolling over and ramming into a guardrail, the roof completely sheared off by a sign post . investigators concluded fewer people would have died if seat belts had been installed. today after decades of debate the national highway and safety administration announced new rules requiring seat belts in all new commercial buses.

>> estimate is that this will save one two nine lives per year by requiring seat belts on few coaches.

>> reporter: 700 million passengers in the united states travel by bus annually. mostly senior citizens and children. between 2000 and 2009 , there were 209 deaths. installation costs are minimal. a new coach is priced between $350,000 and $500,000. seat belts add an additional $13,000. many manufacturers had already independently started installing seat belts on new buses.

>> it's good to have the extra option for safety.

>> there was a seat belt on the bus when i came today. and i wore it.

>> reporter: the new rule doesn't go sb effect until 2016 and doesn't require vehicles already on the road to be retro-fitted because industry officials say it would be too costly. the new rules do t not include city or school buses either. the national highway traffic safety administration says school buses are already safe, relying on a different kind of restraint system. some safety experts say today's step is a small one and long overdue.

>> it took us 40 years to get seat belts on inner city buses. i'm hopeful the battle won't take that long for school buses .

>> reporter: installing seat belts in buses is only half the battle, brian. they only provide more safety if people decide to use them.

>> stephanie gosk starting us off