Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began encouraging states to adopt new legislation that would require school buses to be outfitted with seatbelts. Now, a group of students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Engineering have developed a device that could bring seat belts to motor coaches and municipal transit buses as well.

Starting this year, all new motor coaches are required to be manufactured with seat belts. Federal safety officials estimate that seat belts could reduce fatality rates in rollover accidents by as much as 77 percent. The only trouble is that there are already thousands of motor coaches already on the road that don’t have seat belts. With conventional upgrades, outfitting all of these buses with seat belts would be prohibitively expensive – about $40,000 to $50,000 per bus. With the Retrofit Seat Belt System, however, it would cost just $15,000 per bus.

“The design is affordable because it is the only known way to add seat belts to existing motor coaches without replacing all the seats,” said Sundar Krishnamurty, head of the research team at UMass that developed the retrofit system. “Furthermore, it will be minimally intrusive or noticeable to passengers. Thus, we can expect many bus owners to be interested in a more profitable means to improve the critical safety and comfort of their passengers.”

Krishnamurty and his team believe that as seatbelts in motor coaches become the norm, private transit companies will embrace the Retrofit Seat Belt System as a cost-effective alternative to traditional upgrade options. The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded the team $50,000 dollars to help them bring their invention to market.

Currently the Retrofit Seat Belt System is only designed for use on motor coaches and transit buses, but Krishnamurty and his team are conducting further research that would allow them to adapt the system for use on school buses as well.