Why isn't it illegal to stand on the bus?
October 14, 2009 3:34 AM   Subscribe

Why (in the UK, or anywhere else where this applies) is it illegal to drive without wearing a seatbelt, but legal for bus passengers to sit, or even stand without one?

At least in the UK, if a passenger in a car isn't wearing a seatbelt, the driver is breaking the law.
posted by Mwongozi to Law & Government (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My guess is that it is for practical reasons.

Buses (the inner city kind, rather than long-distance coaches) tend to travel slowly and make frequent stops. In addition, people tend to be making short journeys - sometimes only a few minutes.

Although wearing seatbelts would obviously increase safety, the risk of injury is low (slow speeds, short journeys) while the cost of fitting seatbelts would be very high. Costs would include redesigning buses, buying new buses because their capacity is reduced when people cannot stand, and the time issue (people would need a minute or so to belt-up, so journey times would increase).
posted by jonesor at 3:51 AM on October 14, 2009

Also: previously.
posted by jonesor at 3:52 AM on October 14, 2009

Not to mention that bus drivers are professionals, held to higher standards than normal drivers.
posted by jedrek at 3:54 AM on October 14, 2009

Weill, its illegal not to wear one in a car as this hugely reduces the chances of death and injury in crashes. This stands alone as a very good reason.

So the real question is why aren't seatbelts in coaches and buses compulsory? Well when they are fitted it is compulsory, and most coaches have them fitted these days so you should be wearing them and the onus is on you to obey the compulsory signs.

The question then is buses. Buses for use in urban areas where passengers can stand are granted an exemption which means they don't have to fit seatbelts and thus passengers don't have to wear one. I suspect there is little poltical will to try to make this compulsory.
posted by biffa at 3:59 AM on October 14, 2009

Probably just pragmatism. Seatbelts would be ideal, but it would cost a fortune to fit all of the UK's buses with seatbelts then maintain them. Buses tend to be used for short journeys at relatively low speeds and, as you say, don't have enough seats for all the passengers anyway. I think it'd be very difficult for the govt to persuade people that bus travel is dangerous to warrant seatbelts without being pressured into providing more buses so everyone can get a seat.

It's worth noting that commercial coach services (national express, stagecoach, etc) are required to make sure that their passengers are belted in. This makes sense because they're typically longer journeys at higher speeds (motorways on intercity journeys) and every passenger has a seat. Perhaps more importantly, the government didn't have to pay for them.

I've always wondered the same thing about trains, although maybe it's just that train crashes are so rare and, at top speed, nothing short of a full body harness would do much good anyway.
posted by metaBugs at 4:02 AM on October 14, 2009

Part of it may be that, as well as travelling at slow speeds, a bus has a lot of inertia. If a bus is hit by a car, the impact will feel much less violent to the bus passengers than does to someone in a car, because the change in velocity during collision is much smaller for the bus. It's only really when the bus hits a big object such as a house, or vehicle moving at high speed, that passengers will be flung through the windscreen and spectacularly impaled upon telephone poles etc.

Plus, as others have said, it's just not very practical.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:25 AM on October 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

In the Washington, D.C. USA area, apparently nearly 60 percent of vehicle fatalities are in single-vehicle crashes (registration might be needed to read the link, sorry.) Big risk factors include driving at a high rate of speed, driving at night, and having lots of prior crashes.

With figures like that, I wouldn't be surprised if seatbelts on city buses simply would not improve safety. Buses don't typically operate at high speeds, for example. I would think your typical bus crash in the city would damage some property and may well injure or kill other drivers or pedestrians, but it probably wouldn't hurt the people on the bus.
posted by massysett at 4:44 AM on October 14, 2009

National Express coach drivers make an announcement that riders are required to fasten their seatbelts: intercity services travel on motorways at high speed, and it's both practical and sensible to buckle up whether it's required by law or not.
posted by woodway at 5:16 AM on October 14, 2009

Buses are a hell of a lot safer than cars. School buses, for example, have an injury rate of around 0.2 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Auto fatality rates are way higher (~1.4 to 1.5 or so). Plus, a lot of those school buses are driving rural roads, which are less safe to begin with.

Bus drivers are rarely drunk or talking on the phone, drive a fixed route that they know well, know their job is on the line if they screw up, aren't racing around like idiots trying to save 2 minutes and, most importantly, have about 5 to 10 times the mass behind them. In any accident with a car, the bus wins.
posted by paanta at 5:38 AM on October 14, 2009

There's good reason to allow people to stand on the bus without wearing seatbelts. First of all, I don't think there's any way to get people to wear seatbelts while standing. But why should people be legally allowed to stand on the bus at all?

Well, let's say I'm sitting near the front of the bus with a couple friends (we're all able-bodied people in our 20s), and all the seats are taken. The bus makes a stop and picks up a grandfather with his two young grandchildren (and no one is getting off the bus). What should we do? Putting aside the law for a second, the morally right thing to do is to offer our three seats to the three new passengers, and not complaining if this means standing for the rest of our trip. But what if that's illegal? At best, we face a dilemma of either breaking the law or treating our fellow citizens poorly. And if we're not feeling very altuistic anyway, we might actually be glad to have the excuse: "Oh, there's no way for anyone else to get on the bus -- we can't legally offer our seats." No one would have any leverage to tell us we had to break the law.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:42 AM on October 14, 2009

Buses are a hell of a lot safer than cars. School buses, for example, have an injury rate of around 0.2 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Auto fatality rates are way higher (~1.4 to 1.5 or so).

And the injury/fatality rates per 100 million person miles traveled is going to be even lower for buses, because there will be so many more people per vehicle.

Let's say that requiring seatbelt use on buses creates some marginal increase in safety—only marginal for the reasons laid out above. But doing so will cost ridership because you won't be able to pack in as many passengers to the same number of buses anymore, and because money that would have been spent getting more passengers (through running extra buses or making them more attractive options) will, instead, be spent on retrofitting them for seatbelts.

Will the small increase in safety due to the seatbelts make up for the enormous decrease in safety for all the people abandoning buses for cars? I doubt it.
posted by grouse at 6:14 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

The law's a bit more complicated than that: "If you are travelling on a minibus you must wear a seat belt if one is fitted (or a child restraint if available). On a bus or coach, if you are aged 14 or over you must wear a seat belt if fitted. Regulations requiring children aged three to 13 years to use seat belts (or child restraints if available) in buses and coaches will be brought forward as soon as possible." (directgov website)

This doesn't actually make it make any more sense, just observing that it was different. I used to live in a rural area, and the bus drivers drove very fast on very bendy roads. If I got a seat I'd be wearing a seatbelt, if not, then clinging for dear life to the grab handles (the ones at seat level had handily been given a foam covering so they hurt less when you were catapulted into them). It didn't feel very logical from where I was standing either...
posted by Coobeastie at 7:55 AM on October 14, 2009

Why (in the UK, or anywhere else where this applies) is it illegal to drive without wearing a seatbelt, but legal for bus passengers to sit, or even stand without one?

If you just are wondering about the different application of seemingly the same rule, then it is worth pointing out that passenger cars and public transport vehicles are legislated by completely different rules. Commercial vehicles fall into a further, separate, set. So the rules governing cars simply do not at all apply to public transport or commercial vehicles.

This is why, in the most basic sense, one doesn't follow the rules of another. The short answer as to why there are differences in seat belt legislation have been answered in that other linked thread.
posted by Brockles at 8:01 AM on October 14, 2009

Plus, for city buses, physics is on your side most of the time: The higher mass of a bus means that the momentum of a car hitting it at 30 (city sort of speed) probably won't be enough to send the passengers flying. Or possibly enough for the bus to even notice (for example)

Of course, this won't help when colliding with another bus, a truck, or a solid stationary object, but the only people I've seen driving fast and badly in cities tend to be in relatively flimsy vehicles.
posted by Luddite at 10:45 AM on October 14, 2009

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