Local 2 Investigates: Bus crashes, no seat belts

By Amy Davis - Reporter/Consumer Expert

HOUSTON - A charter bus crash that killed two people and hospitalized about three dozen on a Texas highway in Irving recalled other charter bus crashes where passengers were not wearing seat belts.

The Cardinal Coach bus, which was carrying about 45 people, was headed to a casino in Oklahoma, officials said, and most people aboard the bus weren't wearing seat belts.

For years, Local 2 Investigates has been looking into why there are no seat belts on many buses involved in deadly crashes in Texas and across the country.

In 2006, a charter bus crash in Liberty County killed two Beaumont Westbrook High School soccer players on their way to a game in Humble. Dozens of others were seriously injured.

One year later, 17 Vietnamese Catholics from Houston died when their bus crashed in Sherman, Texas, while on the way to a celebration in Missouri.

Neither bus had seat belts installed.

"It's a shame these tragedies continue," said Tom Brown, a Houston attorney who has represented victims in bus crashes for 10 years. Brown argues seat belts would have saved lives.

"If people had been properly restrained in three-point seat belts, the scientific studies tell us they have a high probability of walking away without any significant injury," Brown said.

In 2007, Local 2 Investigates obtained video of bus crash tests showing passengers restrained with seat belts remained in their seats in a crash. Those without seat belts went flying, falling into aisles, going over seats and falling onto the bus floor.

Victims of the both the 2006 soccer team crash joined others calling for tougher laws requiring seat belts, but neither Congress nor federal safety regulators have forced charter buses to provide seat belts.

A proposed U.S. Department of Transportation rule requiring seat belts in all new charter buses has been waiting for official approval for two years.

Victor Parra, president and CEO of the United Motorcoach Association, said bus owners support that requirement and most new buses are equipped with seat belts.

However, Parra says his group does not support any requirement to retrofit all buses with seat belts. Parra said structural concerns and other engineering problems prevent some older buses from having seat belts installed.

That means even if a national rule is approved, most buses manufactured before 2010 will remain on the road without seat belts.

The bus company, Cardinal Coach, that was involved in Thursday's highway accident in Irving has reported no crashes in the last two years that resulted in deaths or injuries, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The company operates five buses and employs seven drivers, records show, according to the Associated Press.

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