Bryce Canyon Tour Bus Had Mandatory Seat Belts; Restraints Still Not Required On Utah School Buses

Sep 23, 2019, 10:22 PM | Updated: Jul 16, 2023, 3:36 pm

PANGUITCH, Utah – Organized chaos was how hospital officials described the atmosphere at their facility after a fatal bus crash sent over a dozen victims straight through their doors.

Four people died and several were injured after a tour bus carrying Chinese tourists crashed near Bryce Canyon National Park Friday.

As of Monday, three people were still in critical condition at Intermountain Healthcare hospitals, one was in serious condition and eight were in fair condition.

Intermountain Garfield Memorial Hospital in Panguitch was the closest hospital to the site of the crash. It’s a small hospital with only 15 beds in the facility.

Hospital officials said this crash was the largest incident they’ve dealt with in at least 20 years. But around 100 staff members mobilized and were able to do their jobs with level heads.

“There was no panicking. There was focus on the task at hand. We know this. We drill this. We anticipate this kind of thing. And people just focused on the patients, we worked at it,” said Alberto Vasquez, administrator at Garfield Memorial. “I’m sure inside they were screaming but outside they were cool and collected and I’m very proud to be part of this team.”

Authorities said all of the victims from the tour bus accident were in their 60s and from Shanghai, China. Garfield Memorial was able to get an interpreter on-site to help communicate with them.

Investigators said there were seatbelts on the tour bus, but they don’t know yet how many people were actually wearing them.

It is a requirement for all tour buses manufactured after 2016 to be equipped with seatbelts.

But that’s just tour buses. UTA officials said out of its fleet of more than 400 buses, only paratransit vehicles have seatbelts.

When it comes to seatbelts on school buses, that’s been a touchy subject here in Utah.

In states like California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas, it’s the law to have seatbelts on school buses – but not here in Utah.

Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, hoped to change that during the 2019 legislative session with a bill that would have required new school buses to have the restraints.

“I think that it’s ironic and interesting that in this state we fine individuals and parents if they don’t buckle in themselves or buckle in their kids, but yet somehow we find it perfectly acceptable to put dozens and dozens of kids on a school bus without seatbelts,” Hall said.

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued the same recommendation.

Hall’s bill did not pass but he hoped lawmakers will one day change their minds.

“I’m hopeful that we can install those seatbelts into school buses before a serious accident or death happens here in Utah,” he said.

Hall said school districts do not need a law to put seatbelts on buses. They can decide to do that on their own.

However, he did recognize there’s a large cost involved. Per bus, it costs about $12,000 to install seat belts.

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Bryce Canyon Tour Bus Had Mandatory Seat Belts; Restraints Still Not Required On Utah School Buses