Federal Agencies Work to Increase Motor Coach Safety

With the increasing gas prices and airline fares, more and more people are choosing to travel via motor coach. In fact, nearly 750 million passengers utilize buses each year for transportation across America - with millions in Massachusetts alone.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) views motor coaches as one of the safest forms of transportation since just a fraction of total deaths from motor vehicles can be attributed to bus accidents. However, according to NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman, "motor coach safety is on the NTSB's Most Wanted List because of the potential for high-consequence accidents."

The accidents to which she refers include a June 2011 accident when 24 passengers and a co-driver were killed on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Another June accident involved a bus that hit an embankment and overturned in Virginia killing four. Earlier in 2011, another bus crash killed 15 of its passengers who were returning from a Connecticut casino. Unfortunately, all of these accidents could be attributed to driver error or bus maintenance. Even more tragic is the fact that at least one of the charter services had repeatedly disregarded federal regulations.

To protect passenger safety and to expose motor coach companies who choose to disobey the laws, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has stepped up its inspection and safety review efforts. Over the past five years, the number of bus inspections and carrier reviews has doubled resulting in more than 900 buses and drivers being removed from U.S. roadways for violations such as:

  • Drivers violating hours-of-service rules
  • Drivers not having required medical qualifications
  • Operating without proper insurance
  • Using uninspected and unrepaired vehicles
  • Disregarding mandatory drug and alcohol testing

Many view the FMCSA efforts as noble but insufficient. With about one inspector for every 1,000 carrier companies, the FMCSA is overburdened and understaffed. But, the FMCSA has created provisions to empower passengers to assist with the agency's efforts. On its website, the FMCSA has provided bus/passenger carrier information for consumers. The information includes how to choose a responsible, lawful carrier and how to report a safety violation.

In addition to conducting surprise inspections and carrier reviews and educating passengers, the NTSB and FMCSA are working to increase regulations. Such proposals include mandating electronic on-board recorders and other safety features - all in an effort in improve safety and reduce bus accidents.