Busses - Fire Safety Requirements tightened, but not enough

Compared to other transportation means, the fire safety requirements for buses are rather low. The reason is that it is extremely difficult to escape from fires in airplanes, high-speed trains and ships, while it seems rather easy to flee from a bus fire. However, a number of disastrous bus fires in recent years have shown that this is not the case.

Following the November 2008 bus fire catastrophe near Hannover with 20 fatalities, activities started in Europe for improving the existing fire safety level of materials and components used in buses. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe UNECE, Section Transport, and here the Working Party 29 on General Safety Provisions (GRSG) revised the Regulation No. 118 “Uniform technical prescriptions concerning the burning behaviour of materials used in the interior construction of certain categories of motor vehicles” initially based on the European Directive 95/28/EC with the Bunsen burner test on horizontal flame propagation on small samples to FMVSS 302, the small flame test on curtains (ISO 6941), and the dripping test for ceilings (NF P 92505).

One proposal made by the Nordic countries was to optimize fire safety in buses by taking over the very stringent flame spread tests for surface linings (ISO 5658-2) and floorings (EN ISO 9239-1), as well as for smoke development and toxicity of fire gases (smoke chamber to ISO 5659-2) used in the EU for high-speed trains (EN 45545-2) and internationally for seagoing vessels (IMO FTP Code). The other proposal by Germany and France was to make minor revisions to 95/28/EC in testing all vertically positioned interior materials instead of only curtains and blinds, and to additionally introduce a small flame test for wire & cable. In a compromise, the new Regulation No. 118 now contains the following flammability tests:

  • Horizontal flame propagation test to FMVSS 302
  • Small flame test on all vertical interior materials to ISO 6941
  • Dripping test for ceilings to NF P 92505
  • Burning behaviour test of electric cables to ISO 6722

If the vertical test is passed, the test to FMVSS 302 test is no more necessary. The flame propagation test to ISO 5658-2 for railways can be used as an alternative. If met, all the other tests are no more required. There will be no more changes for Regulation No. 118 in the next years. The EU Directive 95/28/EC on the fire safety of buses has become obsolete since the beginning of 2014 and has been substituted by the Regulation No. 118.

The amendment of the UNECE Regulation No. 118 has set higher fire safety levels in buses; this is a step in the right direction. However, more efforts must be made for further improving the fire safety levels of buses’ interiors, particularly in introducing fire tests for seating.