When you see road signs that say “buckle up, it’s the law,” you know exactly what it means. The law requires that automobile drivers and their passengers wear a seatbelt under penalty of fines. But starting January 1, 2018, you’ll have to “click it, or ticket” if you’re on a bus operated by a long-haul carrier such as Greyhound or a charter company. If there is a seatbelt to be used, that is.
It took motorists time to adjust to our current seat belt laws. Will reluctant riders actually strap in when the law goes into effect?
“Generally people don’t think about wearing seat belts on buses,” said Geoff Wardle, executive director of ArtCenter's Transportation Systems and Design Department in Pasadena. “We’ve got into the habit of wearing seat belts in cars. I just don’t think the same consciousness has been in the public mind over buses.”
Take Two’s A Martinez spoke with Wardle about why seat belts are so important to bus safety in the event of a collision, and how the nature of designing seat belts for buses is innately costly and complicated.
There's more opportunity for injury in a bus
Cars are built pretty much as a padded safety cell these days, so the belts are a really important part of restraining you to stop you impacting a part of a car, or being thrown out of a car in a bad accident.
In a bus, it’s slightly different because the bus is not a safety cocoon. The structure is not nearly as integrated as in a modern car. So, the point of the seat belt is really to stop passengers being hurled down the bus. It’s believed that a lot of the injuries in these bus accidents are resulted from people being impacted against sharp objects in the bus. And even if somebody is belted in, they’re safe. But then if somebody is projected forward, they can break necks or injure the people in front of them.
Designing seat belts for buses is complex
It’s more challenging because buses are a much bigger volume. In a car, there are plenty of opportunities to make the anchorages for the seat belts really secure. Any passenger is not really that far away from the structure.
But on a bus, if you imagine an aisle seat, you’re a long way from the structure of the bus to anchor the seat belts. And seat belts require a very solid, strong anchorage if they’re going to be effective.
So, you’re left with a couple of options. One is that you have to reconfigure the actual structural design of the bus, which is a huge issue and is unlikely to happen in a hurry. Very costly. Or, you make the seats be that structure and that’s difficult because then the seat itself becomes quite a complicated piece of engineering.
Seat belts aren't just about your own safety
I think most people would regard it as a good idea. But of course, human beings were built with a certain suspicion of anything we’re told to do. We want to rebel. I think it comes down to a matter of personal conscience. I have to consider the possibility of me injuring another passenger who is wearing a seat belt because I’m not. I think that’s something we have to think about.
Creating a seat belt you won't mind wearing
The challenge is that people come in all shapes and sizes when they ride on buses. And so, it’s important that the seat belt be designed in such a way that say, the upper belt was irritating because it was rubbing on your ear. So, adjustment would make it easier. But of course, it would make it exponentially more complicated to actually design the seat and structure to do something like that on a bus.
Quotes edited for clarity and brevity.