Feds Eye Bus Safety Regulations After New York Crash

Posted By The Carlson Law Firm || 1-Oct-2012

A recent tour bus accident in New York has renewed calls for tougher federal safety regulations over motor coaches, including setting basic driver qualification and training standards and requiring buses to come equipped with seatbelts.

This past March, a motor coach transporting gamblers back to New York City from a casino in Connecticut crashed, killing 15 people. The bus driver may have fallen asleep at the wheel. Witnesses reported seeing the bus swerve off of I-95 several times before it went through a guardrail and smashed into the support pillars of an overpass sign.

The official causes of the crash are still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Charter Bus Accidents on the Rise

Unfortunately, the New York bus accident is not unique -there has been a rash of motor coach accidents over the last several years, including these high-profile crashes:

  • 2010 Utah crash: a tour van traveling though Bryce Canyon National Park rolled over on I-15, killing three people and injuring another 11, including a 20-year-old man from Japan. Bus driver fatigue was the suspected cause of the accident. The Japanese man’s family has since filed a lawsuit against the tour bus operator, among others, for their son’s wrongful death.
  • 2008 North Texas accident: 17 people were killed and 40 more were injured when the bus driver lost control over the vehicle on northbound 1-75 near the Texas-Oklahoma state line. The bus was transporting a group of Vietnamese visitors on a church trip.
  • 2007 crash near Atlanta, Georgia: a charter bus carrying members of the Bluffton University baseball team went over a bridge on I-75, killing six and injuring 29.

According to the New York Times, travel by motor coach is one of the fastest growing forms of transportation in the US with an estimated 750 million people using one of the more than 35,000 buses each year. However, federal safety regulations over motor coaches have not kept pace with their use.

Current Regulations Inadequate to Protect Traveling Public

Current federal regulations fall far-short of what many believe is necessary to ensure the safety of the millions of people who travel by motor coaches each year. For example, current law does not require seatbelts in buses. While six states, including Texas, require seatbelts in school buses, no state currently requires the safety devices on coach buses.

Federal laws also are lax on enforcing bus driver safety. Current regulations limit bus drivers to 10 hours of driving within every 15 hour work day. But bus drivers are allowed to fill in their own driving logs by hand, giving them the opportunity to misrepresent the actual amount of time they spend behind the wheel in order to stay compliant with the law.

Additionally, federal regulations have been criticized by safety advocates for failing to set eligibility and training standards for drivers. Presently, carrying a commercial driver’s license is the only federal requirement for motor coach drivers. Private carrier companies are allowed to set other, if any, eligibility requirements for their drivers.

Congress Considering Two Motor Coach Safety Bills

The New York bus accident has spurred Congress into action and two safety bills have been introduced into the legislature this term: the Motor Coach Enhanced Safety Act and the BUSES Act.

  • The Motor Coach Enhanced Safety Act would require all coach buses to have seatbelts, shatterproof windows to help prevent passengers from being ejected and roofs made to withstand rollovers. It also would require buses to have electronic data recorders to keep track of driver on- and off-duty hours, increase the occurrence of federal inspections and strengthen driver requirements. The House version of the bill is sponsored by Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) while the Senate version is co-sponsored by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX).
  • The Bus Uniform Standards and Enhanced Safety (BUSES) Act would make much fewer changes than the Motor Coach Enhanced Safety Act to the current federal regulatory scheme. The proposed legislation takes aim at driver safety and, if passed, would set minimum training requirements drivers would have to meet prior to obtaining their commercial drivers’ licenses. It also would require the Department of Transportation to perform more research on the benefits of certain safety measures prior to passing regulations, including many of the safety measures the other bill would mandate, such as stronger roofs to withstand rollovers and shatter-proof windows. The bill is sponsored by Reps. William Shuster (R-PA), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Tim Holden (D-PA).

The two proposed safety measures are not without opposition. The American Bus Association, a trade group that represents Greyhound and other carriers, has said that more federal regulations are not necessary, particularly if they include new standards for driver selection.

The biggest prohibitive factor, however, is cost. The Department of Transportation has estimated that it will cost upwards of $25 million per year to equip all new buses with seatbelts – an estimate which does not take into account the costs for implementing the other proposed safety measures.

Conclusion

At this point, it is unclear whether either of the two bus safety bills will make it into law. Past attempts to strengthen federal bus safety laws have been largely unsuccessful. The NTSB has been recommending changes to improve bus safety for years, but so far Congress has been unable to implement the vast majority of the recommendations into law.

Regardless of whether Congress is successful in passing tougher bus safety regulations this year, those who have been involved in a bus accident still have legal options available to them. This includes bringing a civil claim against the motor coach company and others for any injuries and other losses they have suffered. Some of the types of compensation that may be available in a bus injury claim include medical expenses, lost wages and other earnings, pain and suffering and other damages.

For more information on your legal rights following a motor coach accident, contact a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer today.

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