Bus Safety Subject of Legislative Attention Following Last Weeks Charter Bus Crashes
In 2009, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) released the Motor Coach Safety Action Plan setting forth concrete steps for improving motorcoach safety. The action plan addresses major safety issues such as driver fatigue and inattention, vehicle rollover, occupant ejections and oversight of unsafe carriers. With the two recent fatal charter bus accidents, efforts are being speed up the implementation of the safety improvements. Available technology includes collision warning systems that alert drivers to obstacles in their paths and tell them when they are swerving from their lanes, strengthening bus roofs so that they aren't sheared off, as happened to the New York bus when it hit a signpost, and using anti-ejection glazing windows to prevent passengers from being easily thrown out of a bus. The DOT has a Most Wanted List for transportation safety improvements to enhance protection for motorcoach passengers: Redesign motorcoach window emergency exits so passengers can easily open them. Issue standards for stronger bus roofs and require them in new motorcoaches. Devise new standards to protect motorcoach passengers from being thrown from their seats or ejected when a bus sustains a front, side, or rear impact or rolls over. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who chairs a subcommittee on surface transportation, expressed concern that DOT is lagging behind in its progress on the Motorcoach Safety Action Plan. He said he will call hearings to speed the adoption of safety rules proposed by in 2009 for charter bus operators. Lautenberg is reportedly seeking action on proposals that would mandate passenger seat belts, prohibit operators from using cell phones while driving, require onboard recording devices to monitor drivers, increase the crush resistance of bus roofs, and crack down on chameleon companies that change names to avoid sanctions for unsafe operations. Senator Lautenberg notes that an average of 19 motorcoach occupants are killed in crashes each year in the United States. Federal statistics show that the number of fatal crashes involving buses has been declining somewhat in recent years, from 340 deaths in 2005 to 254 in 2009. New Yorks Democratic senators, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, are co-sponsoring a bill that would require commercial bus drivers to complete a rigorous training program. Half of all motorcoach fatalities over the past ten years have occurred as a result of rollovers, and 70 percent of the individuals killed were ejected from the bus. In the aftermath of the two recent crashes, Senator Schumer also touted the proposed The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act that would specifically require: 1. Improved commercial driver training. Currently, no training is required by federal regulation. 2. Safety belts and stronger seating systems to ensure occupants stay in their seats in a crash. 3.Anti-ejection glazing windows to prevent passengers from being easily thrown outside the motorcoach. 4. Strong, crush-resistant roofs that can withstand rollovers. 5. Improved protection against fires by reducing flammability of the motorcoach interior, and better training for operators in the case of fire. 6. A National Commercial Motor Vehicle Medical Registry to ensure that only medically qualified examiners conduct physical examinations of drivers and a medical certificate process to ensure that all certificates are valid and no unqualified operator is allowed to drive. 7.Strengthened motorcoach vehicle safety inspections including roadside inspections, safety audits, and state and motor carrier programs for identifying vehicle defects. 8.Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs) with real-time capabilities to track precise vehicle location that cannot be tampered with by the driver.