Category Archives: Motorcoach

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.

Improving Motorcoach Safety

By Debbie Hersman

Today, the NTSB announced that it will hold a Board meeting on June 5 to determine the probable cause of the March 12, 2011, bus crash on I-95 in the Bronx.

This accident happened early in the morning when the bus was returning to New York City from a Connecticut casino. It departed the travel lanes to the right, crossed over a paved shoulder, and struck a roadside barrier. The bus then traveled nearly 500 feet while rolling over until colliding with a highway signpost. The impact drove the pole through the bus’s windshield, severing the roof panel from the body for nearly the length of the bus. Fifteen people were killed and 18 more were injured.

In the United States, buses carry about 750 million passengers safely each year. That’s more passengers than the U.S. airlines. Although buses are one of the safest forms of intercity transportation, terrible accidents occasionally happen, which is why bus occupant safety is one of the 10 items on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List. For some time now, we have called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to find ways to keep bus passengers safer. Our recommendations include developing standards to increase window glazing and roof strength, improving seating compartments to keep passengers protected and in their seats, and improving window emergency exits on buses.

We continue to be a nation on the move and our challenge is to implement more initiatives to improve bus travel to reach our common goal that everyone gets where they’re going — safely.

A Salute to the Professionals in the Motorcoach Industry

By Debbie Hersman
Charles Griffith and Chairman Hersman

On Wednesday, I observed the latest in motorcoach safety aboard a new MCI 2012 J4500 model motorcoach, owned and operated by Bee Line Transportation of Tucson, Arizona.  We rode from L.A. International Airport to Long Beach where I am meeting with bus industry leaders at the 2012 United Motorcoach Association’s (UMA) Expo.

The bus was equipped with new safety features, many of which are not mandated, such as three-point restraints for passengers, fire detection and suppression systems, electronic stability control, automatic traction control, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.  Our driver, Charles Griffith, (pictured above) demonstrated the qualities envisioned in UMA’s 2012 Expo theme: Year of the Motorcoach Professional.

 I salute Charles and all the manufacturers, suppliers, operators and drivers who work hard to safely transport 760 million passengers every year.

Improving Safety at the Source

By Deborah Hersman

Pitcure of Chairman Hersman and NTSB staff with Prevost employees.
Pictured from left to right are Tom Barth, NTSB, myself, Gaetan Bolduc, Prevost President and CEO, Hugues Beaudry, Prevost VP of Product Development and Purchasing, Michele Beckjord, NTSB, Yvan Mailhot, Prevost VP of Operations, and Deny Bertrand, Prevost Director of Regulatory Compliance. Photo: Kris Poland, NTSB.

Yesterday, several NTSB investigators and I visited Prevost, a major motorcoach manufacturer, to discuss bus occupant safety, an issue on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List. Prevost, headquartered in Quebec, Canada, manufactured about 580 motorcoaches this year, most of them are destined for the US market.

As a result of previous accident investigations, the NTSB has issued a number of recommendations to prevent accidents or improve occupant protection by improving vehicle design or performance. In most cases, we have asked DOT to establish standards or requirements, and unfortunately NTSB recommendations have languished for years, in some areas we have been waiting for a decade or more with little or no progress.

That is why I was so excited to see a manufacturer taking the lead when it comes to safety – for example, today I learned that all new Prevost buses in the US are being equipped with lap and shoulder belts at all passenger seating positions as standard equipment. In addition, between 85 and 90% of Prevost coaches are purchased with their electronic stability program. The buses also have optional safety systems such as adaptive cruise control and collision avoidance systems that are specifically tailored to the unique characteristics of the motorcoach environment. I was very pleased to see all of these positive steps forward consistent with NTSB recommendations.

Blossoms, Tourists, and Improving Bus Safety

By Debbie Hersman

MotorcoachesIt’s cherry blossom time here in Washington, and as I look out my office window, I can see the band of pink cherry blossoms that line the banks of the Potomac. These famous trees make DC a favorite destination for spring tourists. If you look a little closer, you’ll discover how the tourists get here. Behind almost every tree, as far as the eye can see are motorcoaches parked nose-to-tail. Motorcoach travel is one of the most popular modes of transportation today, and motorcoaches carry almost 750 million passengers each year.

There’s been a lot in the news lately about the safety of these large buses. Attention was drawn to the subject when in the early morning hours of March 12, a motorcoach traveling southbound on I-95 toward New York City suddenly swerved, rolled over on its side and struck a signpost, killing 15 of the passengers, and injuring all the other occupants.

Shortly after this fatal accident in NY, there was another accident on the New Jersey Turnpike. The motorcoach struck a concrete wall of an exit ramp, resulting in 2 fatalities and 44 injuries. A week after that there was another accident in Littleton, NH where the motorcoach swerved off a snowy highway, rolling onto its side and injuring 25. Three weeks: three accidents. Statisticians will tell us that this is not a trend, but the news is disturbing nonetheless.

Today, I testified before Congress (read my full written testimony) on motorcoach safety to repeat our calls for safety improvements. Right now, we have 100 outstanding safety recommendations that address motorcoach safety. That’s 100 opportunities to improve the safety of about three-quarters of a billion passengers a year. It’s time to make motorcoach safety a priority.