Motorcoach Safety: A Work in Progress

By Debbie Hersman

Today marks the one-year anniversary of a deadly motorcoach rollover accident. Last May 31, before dawn, a 59-passenger motorcoach traveling northbound on Interstate 95 near Doswell, Virginia, departed the right side of the highway and rolled over onto its roof. Four passengers were killed, 54 were injured, and the bus sustained extensive damage. The Board meets to determine the probable cause of this accident on July 31, 2012.

Next week, on June 5, the Board will meet on another deadly bus rollover accident that killed 15 passengers and injured 17 others on March 12 in New York City. While buses are among the safest forms of transportation — they carry some 750 million passengers a year — because of the large number of people onboard, when something goes wrong, more people are at risk of death or serious injury. That’s why improving motorcoach safety has been a priority for the NTSB for many years.

Furthermore, our bus investigations have regularly identified businesses that should not have been operating and who deliberately restructured their operations to shirk Federal safety regulations. Today, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced that, after a year-long safety investigation and multiple bus safety task forces, it has shut down 26 bus operations for repeatedly and flagrantly violating safety rules.

With these actions, the DOT and its state partners are telling operators to put safety first or get put out of business. I commend Secretary LaHood and FMCSA Administrator Ferro for taking a strong stand for the safety of bus travelers and all motorists on our interstate highways.

One thought on “Motorcoach Safety: A Work in Progress”

  1. It’s very nice that you want bus travel to be safer. However, your efforts all seem to be geared toward more regulation/enforcement. Why not address the dismal conditions of some of the trips the drivers are expected to make? I don’t mean weather or traffic; those things are a given, and are just understood to be part of the job.

    What I’m talking about are the “day” trips that amount to a driver being on duty for 22 hours or more. It’s all perfectly legal, of course; the driver makes a long drive to some point, drops the group off, and has eight hours “off.” However, this eight hours must often be spent with the bus, as there is often no accomodation for the driver. He or she must first try to find some place to park, often spending the whole “off” time with one eye open, alert for parking enforcement, as it is unusual for a large city to have any place for buses to go. It is not unheard of to have to keep trying to find parking during this “off” time. The driver also must try to get enough rest during this “off” time to enable him or her to drive the group safely home–“resting” upright in a seat, without heat or air conditioning, regardless of outdoor temperatures. This can be literally life-threatening. It is illegal in many states to leave a dog in a car in the heat, but nobody cares if a bus driver risks heat stroke trying to “rest” in an un-airconditioned bus in 95-degree heat without shade. There is also risk of freezing to death in an unheated bus. And may the gods help the poor driver if something goes wrong, because it’s all his or her fault. If one protests to one’s employer, one is offered the door.

    This happens every day. Please address this. Thank you.

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