Category Archives: Motorcoach

Safer Motorcoaches, Coming to a Community Near You

By Debbie Hersman
Motorcoach seats with lap and shoulder seat beltsAlthough motorcoach travel is extremely safe and crashes are rare, when they do occur, many people may be injured or even killed, especially if they are ejected from the bus. According to NHTSA, 45% of fatalities in motorcoaches result from passengers being ejected from the bus during a crash. Seat belts are a simple and easy way to safely keep people in the bus.

The National Transportation Safety Board first called for seat belts to be installed on motorcoaches over four decades ago. Over the last 45 years, we investigated accident after accident where improved occupant protection could have prevented fatalities and injuries; so we reiterated our recommendation, testified before Congress, and advocated for voluntary safety improvements within the industry. Last week, NHTSA announced a long-awaited final rule requiring seat belts on motorcoaches. We are encouraged that NHTSA included many large buses that previously were not required to have any protection for passengers.

NHTSA’s final rule requires adjustable seats belts for all passenger seats on new motorcoaches starting in 2016. While implementation of the rule is still three years away, we know that many manufacturers, including MCI, Prevost, Setra, and Van Hool, have already voluntarily installed seat belts and other critical safety features in their buses. As a result, you may soon travel on a large bus that has lap and shoulder belts at all passenger seats. Ask for buses with seat belts. Look for the belts on buses and wear the belts properly during the entire trip. It just may save your life.

Cherry Blossoms and Tour Buses

cherryblossom

By Earl F. Weener

Nothing marks the beginning of spring in the nation’s capital like the National Cherry Blossom Festival. This week, events to celebrate the 101st anniversary of the gift of the trees will begin.  Over the next four weeks more than one million people are expected to visit Washington to take part in parades, parties, exhibits, performances and, of course, to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom. Many of those visitors will travel by motorcoach.

There has been a lot of attention lately on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s crackdown on inadequate bus operations. One of the most recent actions revokes the operating license of Ming An, a carrier that sells cheap rides to cities in Virginia, Georgia and Florida.  FMCSA found that the company failed to conduct pre-employment drug and alcohol testing, allowed unqualified drivers to operate their vehicles, and did not conduct vehicle safety inspections, all of which federal regulations require.

While cost is often an important issue when choosing a motorcoach carrier, it should not be the only concern. There are plenty of low cost carriers that do not sacrifice the safety of their passengers in order to offer a low fare. Check the operators’ recent Federal safety rating. Look for operators with vehicles that offer enhanced occupant protection systems such as lap and shoulder seat belts. The US Department of Transportation maintains the SaferBus smartphone app to assist consumers with making a safe choice. 

For decades, the NTSB has been concerned with the operations of bus companies. The NTSB has investigated numerous accidents in which we found that an important step in improving bus safety is to ensure that professional motorcoach drivers are qualified. The NTSB recommends that bus operators should review a longer, more comprehensive driving history during the recruitment/hiring process and use video event recorder information to assess on-the-job performance. Bus operators require government authority, their drivers require professional driver’s licenses, and their customers pay for service. Accordingly, bus passengers deserve the highest level of safety.

For additional information on the NTSB’s accident investigations and recommendations to improve bus safety visit the Most Wanted List web page, Improve the Safety of Bus Operations.

Ten Ways to Improve Transportation Safety

By Debbie Hersman

Next Wednesday is the single-busiest travel day in the United States. AAA projects 43.6 million people will travel 50 miles or more during next week’s Thanksgiving holiday weekend, including 39 million people in automobiles. That’s more people in cars than live in Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Montana combined.

That’s a lot of people on the road. Tragically, it also means a lot of empty seats at Thanksgiving tables since, historically, about 500 people have been killed in highway crashes during the long holiday weekend.

In my eight years at the NTSB, I have been at 19 major accident scenes. There is nothing that makes the point about the importance of family and friends than seeing how things change in the blink of an eye.

Things can change that quickly.

But, we can do better.

Doing better to improve the safety of transportation is part of the NTSB mission. Over the years, the NTSB has investigated thousands of accidents across all modes of transportation. The Most Wanted List focuses on areas where critical changes can reduce transportation accidents and save lives. This week, we unveiled the new list for 2013.

Several items on the 2013 list address improving highway safety:

Eliminating Substance-Impaired Driving

Eliminating Distraction in Transportation

Improving Fire Safety in Transportation

Improving the Safety of Bus Operations

Mandating Motor Vehicle Collision Avoidance Technology

Preserving the Integrity of Transportation Infrastructure

The new Most Wanted List also addresses four other aspects of transportation safety:

Improve the Safety of Airport Surface Operations

Improve General Aviation Safety

Implement Positive Train Control Systems

Enhance Pipeline Safety

I’ll be writing about all ten areas in future blog posts. But, you can start to improve transportation safety right now with the choices you make, such as buckling up, choosing not to drink and drive and by putting attention back in the driver’s seat.

Your actions could be the difference between a full table and an empty seat at the Thanksgiving meal. At the NTSB we have the opportunity to make transportation safer and save lives, but each one of us has the opportunity to make better choices — now, that’s something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Improving Safety Across all Modes of Transportation

By Debbie Hersman
Today, I had the honor of speaking to the Aero Club of Washington, an audience of professionals from across civil aviation. It’s a great organization whose members have done much to improve aviation safety. I recognized them for the aviation community’s hard work, which has resulted in a very impressive safety record — no fatal air carrier accidents since 2009.

But, I pointed out to the Aero Club members that with some 34,000 annual fatalities across all modes of transportation, there’s a lot the NTSB does outside of aviation. Readers of this blog well know that in addition to aviation accidents, the NTSB investigates railroad, highway, marine and pipeline accidents.

The good news is that, while not as dramatic as the safety record of the U.S. airlines, there have been significant safety improvements in other transportation modes. I told the Aero Club about the following positive changes that have all come in the wake of terrible tragedies:

• The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority committed to implementing all of our safety recommendations following a deadly two-train collision in 2009.

• The surface transportation reauthorization legislation — known as MAP-21 — addressed another NTSB recommendation about transit safety and gives the Federal Transit Administration crucial safety oversight authority to set national transit standards.

• The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which oversees bus and truck safety, has taken an aggressive stand on bus safety, such as its recent one-day shutdown of 26 bus operations and has also implemented tough new rules prohibiting interstate truck and bus drivers from using handheld cell phones.

• NHTSA is addressing improved bus occupant protection and manufacturers are now voluntarily including seatbelts as standard equipment on new buses.

Yes, the NTSB covers all modes. Our goal: improved safety. But, more to the point: it’s about saving lives. You can read the full speech here.

Walking the Walk

By Debbie Hersman

The NTSB applauds the National Parent Teacher Association for its recent resolution calling on drivers to refrain from distracted driving.

Over the past decade, the NTSB has investigated accidents across all modes of transportation where distraction was the cause or a contributing factor in the crash. In December 2011, the Board recommended that states enact laws banning all drivers from all non-emergency use of personal electronic devices such as texting and talking on cellphones. The Board subsequently held an Attentive Driving – Countermeasures to Distraction Forum in March 2012.

Unfortunately, this issue suffers from the “Do as I say, not as I do” syndrome. Despite the fact that 80 percent of drivers see distraction as a danger to their safety, people continue to do it. In the AAA Foundation’s Traffic Safety Culture Index for 2011, more than two in three drivers reported talking on their cell phone while driving in the past month, and one in three drivers said that they did so regularly. Even in the case of texting, which has been considered to be one of the deadliest distractions on the road, 26 percent admitted to having typed an email or a text while driving in the past month, and 35 percent admitted to reading one. This is why the resolution from the NPTA is critical; NPTA is showing that we must lead by example; we must not “talk the talk” but rather, “walk the walk.”

Lessons Learned from NTSB Investigations Addressed in Highway Bill

By Debbie Hersman

At the NTSB, we don’t have the power to pass laws, regulations or issue fines. Our charge is to thoroughly investigate accidents, analyze trends and make our best recommendations on how to make transportation safer.

It is a testament to the great work of the men and women of the NTSB that Congress addressed so many of our safety recommendations in its latest transportation law.

Based on our investigation of several accidents involving the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority as well as a number of accidents around the country where local oversight was lacking, the NTSB recommended increased federal oversight of rail transit following the 2009 collision near Fort Totten. Senator Mikulski and many in the Washington-area delegation made this a priority following several fatal accidents on Metro and at the DOT, Administrator Rogoff of the Federal Transit Administration and Secretary LaHood, have embraced this safety oversight. The new law improves federal oversight of rail transit systems and creates greater accountability among state safety oversight entities.

Bus occupant safety, which is on our “Most Wanted List” and includes a number of long-standing NTSB recommendations, received a boost in the new transportation law. Senator Hutchison worked for many years with her colleagues to advocate for better bus occupant protection through better crashworthiness, safety monitoring standards, and fire suppression measures. The law also improves the safety-fitness rating system of motorcoaches and additional authority for DOT to combat the efforts of poor carriers who try to escape scrutiny by “reincarnating” themselves under new names. Senator Brown and Congressman Lewis deserve credit for their work on bus safety.

Addressing human fatigue has been a perennial issue on our “Most Wanted List.” For over 30 years, the Board has identified fatigue as the primary cause of numerous fatal highway accidents involving large trucks. The law includes the requirement for electronic on-board recorders to be installed on commercial motor vehicles to monitor drivers’ hours of service. This requirement, while controversial and heavily debated, is the only way to really level the playing field when it comes to driver compliance with the law – we routinely see two sets of log books or drivers exceeding legal limits in our investigations. Adoption of this provision will save lives and make our highways safer.

Other NTSB “Most Wanted List” issue areas, teen driver safety, addressing alcohol-impaired driving and motorcycle safety were also addressed in the law. To improve teen driver safety, grants will be provided to states implementing graduated licensing programs and efforts aimed at increasing teen seatbelt use, reducing distracted driving and curbing underage drinking. To help fight alcohol-impaired driving, the law specifies minimum penalties for repeat offenders and authorizes NHTSA to conduct research on in vehicle alcohol-detection technology. The law also provides motorcycle safety grants focused on improving motorcycle training and reducing fatalities.

The law includes many of our recommendations and important changes which, if implemented, will improve safety. Yet, with more than 30,000 fatalities a year, we know there is much more work to be done. At the NTSB, our investigators and analysts will continue evaluating accidents so we can learn important lessons to constantly improve the safety of our roadways and help inform the policymakers that are working to prevent future accidents.

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.