|The Texas prison bus that crashed last week, killing two correctional officers and eight prisoners, was not equipped with passenger seat belts.
The prison bus skidded off an icy Interstate near Penwell, slid down an embankment and collided with a freight train. The prisoners were handcuffed together but none of them had seat belts, and several were ejected from the bus when it struck the train. In addition to the 10 people who died, four inmates and one corrections officer remain in serious condition.
According to authorities investigating the case, the bus was only equipped with seat belts for the driver and the guards. Its not known yet whether the guards who died in the crash were wearing their seat belts.
Though adult seat belt use is the most effective way to reduce injuries and save lives during traffic accidents, Texas state law only requires them for passenger vehicles, not larger vehicles like buses. Federal law doesn’t even require passenger seat belts in commercial buses like Greyhound and Megabus.
Robert Downs, the president of an unrelated busing company based in Florida, told ABC Crimesider that most prison transport companies he knew of lacked inmate seat belts. He added that when he founded his company in 2006, he tried to introduce seat belts, but inmates would use the metal clasps to try to bend their handcuffs. When the company switched to Velcro, inmates just tore them off.
Authorities believe ice and an earlier crash on the I-20 may have contributed to the accident. They have yet to name the officer who was driving the bus, but each correctional officer had over 15 years of service.
The Union Pacific freight train came to a stop shortly after the accident. No Union Pacific employees were injured and none of the cars derailed. Two containers in the back of the train were damaged, causing hundreds of packages to scatter along the tracks.
Change is coming to bus seat belt regulations, though it didn’t come soon enough for the Texas crash victims. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Administration ruled last year that all newly manufactured motorcoaches and large buses will need to have seat belts beginning in 2016. Older vehicles won’t be affected right away, but the legislation aims to make bus rides safer for passengers in the future.