The Urgent Need for Safer Bus Transportation

By Robert Sumwalt

I-95 bus accident
Photo Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Once again bus transportation is tragically in the news. Early on Tuesday morning, a motorcoach crashed near Doswell, Virginia. The motorcoach was traveling from North Carolina to New York City on I-95 when it crashed at about 4:55 a.m. There were four fatalities and a number of people are being treated for mild to serious injuries.

The NTSB launched a Go-Team to investigate the crash. Peter Kotowski is Investigator-in-Charge. Board Member Earl Weener accompanied the team to serve as NTSB’s principal spokesman during the on-scene phase of the investigation.

This accident follows on the heels of three other East Coast motorcoach accidents. These accidents — in New York City, New Jersey, and New Hampshire — claimed 17 lives and injured 87 people. The NTSB is investigating the March 12 fatal accident on I-95 in the Bronx and we are reviewing the safety performance of the companies whose motorcoaches crashed in New Jersey on March 14 and in New Hampshire on March 22.

The NTSB has issued many motorcoach safety recommendations based on our accident investigations. Three of those issues are on our Most Wanted List:

Improved occupant protection – including stronger roofs, window emergency exit redesign, and standards for passenger seating compartments.

Better Government oversight of operators – to ensure that both the operational status of vehicles and their drivers are safe.

Implementing advanced vehicle technologies – to prevent accidents from occurring in the first place, including lane-departure warning, electronic stability control, and forward-collision warning systems.

Unfortunately, there has been no sense of urgency on these recommendations, some of which are nearly ten years old. The result? We continue to investigate accidents where the same things happen.

Last month, I chaired an NTSB public forum to review motorcoach and truck safety. As I said then, clearly, progress has been made in improving highway safety since the Board last held a motor carrier forum in 1999. But, there is much more work to be done to avoid tragic accidents such as the one on Tuesday morning in Virginia.


Member Robert Sumwalt Robert L. Sumwalt has been a Member of the NTSB since 2006. He is a frequent contributor to the blog.

One thought on “The Urgent Need for Safer Bus Transportation”

  1. I notice nobody says a word about the sort of schedule a coach operator is expected to keep. Pick up the group at, say, 0500, drive six hours, drop the group off, then have eight hours “off,” during which time you can’t find anywhere to park the coach, so you must park it illegally and stay awake during that “off” time so you can keep moving the bus in order to avoid outrageously expensive parking tickets. Since idling isn’t allowed any more, you risk heatstroke in the summer and frostbite during the winter.

    After your eight hours of “rest,” you have to drive the group back. Gee, I wonder why drivers are so tired? I loved driving coaches, but had to get away from this insanity.

    Nobody is addressing this that I’ve heard. I’d love to be wrong about that!

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