Bluffton bus crash legacy includes new safety law

By Craig Kelly -

BLUFFTON — It was a tragic event 600 miles away whose effects rippled through the lives of many grieving family members and friends of the victims of the Bluffton University baseball team bus crash in Atlanta 10 years ago. In the decade since that event, however, ripple effects from that crash have also become evident in the nation’s capital.

In the months after the crash, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown met with John and Joy Betts, whose son David died in the crash. Out of those meetings and other calls for action, Brown and former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, first put forward the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act in November 2007.

In a timeline of events provided by Brown’s office, after the Senate Commerce Committee held hearings on the legislation in 2008, it was reintroduced in 2009 and 2011, receiving support from the CEO of Greyhound Dave Leach. Finally, in 2012, after being integreated into the highway bill reauthorization, the bill passed and was signed into law that July.

Among the requirements included in the law was a mandate to ensure that all newly built motorcoaches have lap and shoulder belts included for passengers by November 2016. Additional mandates were building stronger frames and windows for rollover crashes, improving commercial driver training, reducing the flammability of the motorcoach interior, strengthening inspections and creating a National Commercial Motor Vehicle Medical Registry to ensure that only medically qualified personnel give drivers medical examinations.

Frank Harnishfeger of Buckeye Charter Service said that one bus in his fleet does have included seat belts.

“If a customer requests for it, we can see if it’s available, but it doesn’t usually come up from the customer,” he said.

Brown gives the credit for passing the law to the Betts family and their persistance.

“No one is more responsible for the passage of this law than the Betts family who turned their grief into action after David passed away in this tragic crash 10 years ago. Because of the Betts and my Republican colleague Kay Bailey Hutchison, we now have seat belts on buses and will soon have stronger windows and roofs to protect passengers from being ejected or crushed,” Brown said. “But our work didn’t end with the passage of this law. I will urge the Trump administration and Transportation Secretary [Elaine] Chao to follow through on the remaining safety standards of my law to help make our buses safer.”

Reach Craig Kelly at 567-242-0390 or on Twitter @Lima_CKelly.

Reach Craig Kelly at 567-242-0390 or on Twitter @Lima_CKelly.

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