By Robert Accetta
Motorcoaches, given their size and construction, are inherently safer than most vehicles on the road. But more can be done to protect passengers in the unlikely event of a crash. That’s the safety message my fellow highway investigator Mike LaPonte, and I brought to the United Motorcoach Association’s (UMA) Motorcoach Expo 2016, held in Atlanta last week.
In a session before UMA’s Board of Directors, which consisted of nearly 40 motorcoach owner-operators from across the country, we highlighted lessons learned from crashes involving motorcoaches. One crash we discussed at length occurred in Orland, California, in April 2014. A FedEx truck driver became incapacitated for unknown reasons, and the truck crossed a median and struck a motorcoach, head-on, coming in the opposite direction. The FedEx truck’s fuel tank ruptured, sending diesel fuel into the motorcoach. The bus was quickly consumed by fire.
While the motorcoach operator did not cause the crash, numerous passengers died in the bus as a result of the collision and because they could not escape quickly enough from the burning vehicle. The crash resulted in the NTSB making several recommendations requiring better exit lighting, a secondary exit, and improved flammability standards.
Additionally, the event data recorder (EDR) did not survive the crash due to the high heat of the fire – making it difficult to determine specifics related to the crash. This highlighted the need for fire and crash-resistant EDRs in all commercial vehicles. The need for such recorder technology in commercial vehicles is on our new 2016 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements.
Our booth at the expo provided attendees additional information on the agency’s Most Wanted List – our top 10 list of needed safety improvements in all modes of transportation. Nearly 200 motorcoach owners, operators, manufacturers, and other vendors stopped by to learn more from me, Mike, and our advocacy folks about the NTSB and what it deems to be the most critical safety concerns for motorcoach operators. These issues include fatigue, distraction, substance impairment, occupant protection, driver medical fitness for duty, and the need for collision avoidance and recorder technologies in all vehicles.
At the expo, there were numerous vendors offering technologies related to fatigue management, electronic logs, tire pressure monitoring, and collision avoidance systems. And many bus operators seemed to show a real interest in continual safety improvements as a critical element of running an effective business.
One speaker, an expert on customer analysis, reminded motorcoach companies about the importance of putting their customers—passengers—first. Companies which do so tend to be the most successful. And what better way to show a commitment to your customers than by ensuring their safety.
After all, operating safely is just good business.
Robert Accetta is an Investigator-in-Charge in the NTSB’s Office of Highway Safety