Seatbelt Initiatives

April 2019: Sara’s Wish Foundation and the UMass Transportation Center Secure Safe System Innovation Grant from the Road to Zero Coalition.  

Prestigious annual grants are given to organizations focused on eliminating roadway deaths by 2050.

Amherst, MA – Sara’s Wish Foundation (SWF) and the University Massachusetts Transportation Center (UMTC) are proud to announce they have received a Safe System Innovation Grant from the Road to Zero Coalition to advance the SWF and UMTC collaborative effort to end traffic fatalities by 2050.

This grant will help SWF and UMTC continue creating an effective national motor coach seatbelt educational campaign “kit” to increase seatbelt usage on motor coaches. The kit will be distributed to motor coach operators and include easy-to-implement templates of actions. These include formal announcements made by the motor coach driver, a video via an in-vehicle monitor or internet-based application, promotional banners at the entrance to the motor coach and in the terminal waiting area, text or email messages sent to riders, digital messages promoting seatbelt usage when tickets are purchased online as well as a simple message printed on the ticket and also attached to the back of each seat: e.g., “Be Safe…Sit, Click and Ride.”

“The expectations,” stated SWF President Anne Schewe, “are that this campaign ‘kit’ will enable motor coach operators to make passengers aware of the benefits of wearing seatbelts and that this awareness will convince passengers that seatbelts can save their lives and reduce the severity of injuries in crashes. This in turn is expected to lead to increases in motor coach seatbelt usage.”

“The need to continue to focus on promoting seatbelt usage especially along our busy, high speed highways is of paramount importance,” says UMTC Director Professor Michael Knodler, “and it makes good sense in light of the fact that all new buses since 2016 are required by law to be equipped with seatbelts, a multi-million dollar investment made annually by motor coach operators. Based on a small, preliminary survey conducted jointly by SWF and UMTC, current seatbelt usage on motor coaches may be on the order of 1%.”

“With as many as 40,000 people killed each year in motor vehicle crashes, now is the time for bold and innovative action,” said Nick Smith, interim president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “Once again, the selection panel had an impressive pool of applicants, but this year’s winners stood out because of their logic-based, proven strategies. We look forward to watching their progress on our shared journey to zero roadway deaths.”

To qualify for a Safe System Innovation Grant, an organization must clearly explain how its program will improve safety on the roadways, set a timeframe for the reduction in deaths and injuries, outline how the program will be evaluated, and detail how the organization intends to reach its target audience, among other elements.

The SWF and UMTC program will include: “before” seatbelt usage counts along motor coach routes in selected locations in the United States; the development of a comprehensive plan to educate motor coach passengers about the benefits of wearing seatbelts and to persuade passengers to wear their seatbelts (where installed); implementation and evaluation of the comprehensive plan with the aid of “after” seatbelt usage counts; post-implementation focus groups; and the final preparation and distribution of the campaign “kit.” It should be noted that SWF and UMTC have a long history of working with U.S. DOT agencies including Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Federal Highway and Transit Administrations as well as the American Bus Association, United Motor Coach Association, Greyhound, Peter Pan Bus Lines, and other motor coach industry stakeholders.

The Road to Zero initiative was launched in October 2016 as a joint effort between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and the National Safety Council. The goal is to eliminate roadway deaths by 2050. The Department of Transportation committed $1 million annually from 2017 to 2019 and an additional $500,000 in 2018 to fund Safe System Innovation Grants, and the National Safety Council is managing the grant process.

For more information about the Road to Zero, please visit nsc.org/roadtozero.

Increasing United States Seatbelt Usage on Motorcoaches: A Short History

This initiative came from Anne and Charlie Schewe’s strong belief that their daughter Sara would not have died in a bus crash if she had been wearing a seatbelt.  According to the National Transportation Safety Board, accidents in the United States kill twenty-one bus passengers a year and injure more than 7,900.  The most common cause of fatalities is rollovers, the board says.  Rollovers cause 55% of these fatalities while two-thirds of fatalities stem from ejection.  Wearing seat belts reduces the likelihood of death in rollovers by 77%.  Increased awareness of the need for seatbelts in commercial motorcoaches and other forms of buses has led US Congress to pass the 2013 Final Rule [78 FR 70416] titled “Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards: Occupant Crash Protection” mandating the installation of lap/shoulder seatbelts in all new motorcoaches manufactured after November 2016.  Approximately 1200 new buses are produced each year.  As well, an estimated 35,000 buses are already on the road today.  Some of these existing motorcoaches are presently voluntarily equipped with seatbelts. More and more passengers will be presented with safety restraint systems going forward.  But will they use them?  Studies show that fastening one’s seatbelt when it is available on a motorcoach has been extremely low.  Estimates of seatbelt usage revolve around 10% and lower.

Sara’s Wish Foundation has partnered with the Center for Transportation at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to design a motivational marketing campaign to substantially increase seatbelt restraint usage.  A Safety Summit was held in the Dirksen Building on the Hill in Washington, DC, on October 26, 2017.  The goal of this workshop was to bring together individuals with varied perspectives to generate ideas about how to improve seatbelt usage.  Those participating came from government agencies [e.g., NHTSA, FMCSA], advertising agencies, insurance companies, motorcoach and seatbelt manufacturers, associations supporting bus transportation, and road safety advocates.  A summary of this report can be found here.  A result of this meeting was the development of a Task Force of concerned parties that work to direct SWF and the UMass Transportation Center’s efforts.

The points of greatest impact to obtain motorcoach passenger compliance with greater usage appear to be the time period between ticket purchase and through the entire bus trip experience.  A pilot program has begun with Peter Pan Bus Lines to determine the impact of various messaging media.  This program begins with setting benchmarks for usage by observing actual usage on various bus routes, designing and putting into place the marketing message components, and then measuring the impact of these message elements.  Messages will be repeated multiple times during this period.  The campaign to persuade buckling up includes a logo and slogan [“Be Safe…Sit, Click and Ride!”], banners, labels, videos and social media support.

Retrofitting Existing American Motorcoaches with Seatbelts

After a number of years of debate, in December 2013, the United States Senate and House of Representatives passed into law the Final Rule [78 FR 70416] titled “Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards: Occupant Crash Protection” mandating the installation of lap/shoulder seatbelts in all new motorcoaches manufactured after November 2016.  However, the 30,000 existing buses on the road today were not mandated to be retrofitted because of the estimated cost of such a retrofit of $40,000 to $80,000 per 54-seat bus. Such an expenditure would compel a large portion of the 3500 independent motorcoach companies to go out of business.

Sara’s Wish Foundation and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst  Department of Mechanical Engineering have designed a patented retrofit seatbelt at a lower cost.  Now provisionally patented, this retrofit design would reduce costs of a retrofit to less than $15,000 per motorcoach.  Anne and Charlie Schewe, along with their College of Engineering partners in the design, Professors Sundar Krishnamurty, Douglas Eddy and John Collura, have gained the support of key constituencies.  Governmental agencies and activitist organizations concerned with road safety have voiced strong support for this Sara’s Wish Foundation initiative.  SWF and its partners have the backing of the American Bus Association and its president, Peter Pantuso, and have participated in numerous governmental/industry/social responsibility meetings to show and gain support. For example, the retrofit team has met with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the National Safety Transportation Agency, and high-level administrators in the Department of Transportation to voice SWF’s commitment for the retrofit and the solution that it has. We have traction in this retrofit initiative, and as always, hope to save lives in Sara’s name. That, we believe, is Sara’s wish!

The University of Massachusetts-Amherst Center for Transportation  through the assistance of Professor John Collura received an award of $50,000 from the State of Massachusetts Department of Transportation allowing completion of the retrofit design as well as the crash testing of the design. American Seating Corporation, the largest motorcoach seating manufacturer, is actively pursuing licensing the patent and bringing the retrofit to the industry.  This retrofit initiative is fully “on the road.”