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Gov't Announces New Motor Coach, Bus Seat Belt Regulations

(CBS News) The government is announcing long-awaited safety rules to protect bus passengers.

(CBS News) The government is announcing long-awaited safety rules to protect bus passengers.

Under the new regulations, all new motor coaches and other large buses must be equipped with three-point lap-shoulder belts. But the rules do not take effect until 2016, and existing buses are not required to be retrofitted with seat belts.

This has been a long time coming - federal accident investigators first called for seat belts on buses 45 years ago after a horrific bus crash in California that killed 19 bus passenger, CBS News' Chip Reid reported on "CBS This Morning." And even with this new seat belt requirement, some bus passengers who are looking forward to using seat belts are going to be disappointed.

Federal investigators say crash tests show that the new rule requiring lap and shoulder seat belts will cut the number of deaths and injuries resulting from bus accidents almost in half. 

Anne Ferro, head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said, "Car drivers today are buckling up at a rate of 86 percent. With this new rule, passengers of motor coaches have the same choice, and we hope they make it."

But not all bus passengers will have that choice. The seat belt requirement does not apply to city transit buses or school buses.

Ferro said, "We have now mandated for seat belts on motor coaches, and it will be up to individual school districts as to how they proceed."

In addition, the rule doesn't take effect for three years and even then only new buses will be required to have seat belts.

For years, bus companies fought efforts to require seat belts because of the expense. But the tide started to turn in favor of seat belts in 2007 when a bus carrying a baseball team from Ohio's Bluffton University plummeted off a highway overpass in Atlanta, killing 7 and injuring 28.

Now, Pete Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association, says most bus operators support seatbelts, and they're not waiting for the federal government to tell them what to do. He said, "Many of our members are already putting seat belts on their buses and have been for more than a half a dozen years. So it's going to be a continuation of good safety practices."

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