Tour Bus Safety and You: What Passengers Need to Know to Protect Their Rights
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on August 27th, 2011
A continuing pattern of serious tour bus accidents across the nation means that you have to watch out for the safety of your loved ones.
For the second time this year, a serious tour bus accident on a New Jersey highway has caused a fatality and injured more than a dozen passengers.
The crash occurred earlier this week when the bus struck the rear of a tractor-trailer rig that had run into the rear of another truck on a traffic-snarled, southbound section of the New Jersey Turnpike, according to a story in The (Newark) Star-Ledger.
The driver of the bus died several days after the crash due to critical injuries, while at least 16 other people were injured.
In March, another bus driver and one of his passengers died when his bus smashed into a bridge overpass and then slammed into an embankment, according to a story in The New York Times. About 40 passengers on the bus, which was operated by a different company than this week’s crash, were taken to hospitals for evaluation or treatment.
The crashes and fatalities are part of a larger and troubling pattern of deaths and injuries on tour buses and commuter buses being operated across the nation. Many of the accidents involve discount tour bus operations that sell low cost tickets, such as $20 from New York to Washington, D.C., so they can pack the buses and make them profitable using low fares.
How prevalent are these crashes?
They’re happening more and more it seems.
In June, four bus passengers died in Virginia when the discount tour bus they were traveling on swerved off Interstate 95 about 30 miles north of Richmond and overturned, according to an Associated Press story on NJ.com. That bus company, Sky Express Inc. of Charlotte, N.C., was shut down indefinitely by the U.S. Department of Transportation in May, according to CBS 3 New York. Last month, the driver of that bus pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges in connection with the crash.
And let’s not forget the tour bus crash in March that killed 14 passengers and left 19 others injured when a Manhattan-bound bus overturned on a Bronx highway, according to a story in The New York Times. The passengers on the bus were returning to New York’s Chinatown after a night of gambling in a Connecticut casino.
The U.S. Department of Transportation conducts random safety inspections of tour buses and commercial buses as part of its ongoing National Passenger Carrier Strike Force program. The inspections are done by federal, state and local police agencies at popular travel destinations across the nation, according to the agency.
The recent string of commercial tour and commuter bus crashes has “renewed calls from industry experts and lawmakers who say more oversight is needed to ensure safer bus travel across the U.S.,” according to the NJ.com story.
In the meantime, what can you do to make sure that you and your family members are safe if they ride tour buses or commuter buses?
You can become a more informed consumer by checking into the reputations of tour bus companies before you or your loved ones even purchase a ticket. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration inside the U.S. Department of Transportation sponsors a Web page where prospective bus passengers can get more information on carriers and buses before they travel. There are even tips for selecting a safe bus company for charters and group trips (be sure to see Step 2), and a Web page where you can report safety violations and other problems when traveling by bus so that safety issues can be addressed.
Efforts in Congress to pass a proposed federal bus safety bill have been stymied for at least three years. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, introduced Senate Bill 453, the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2011, which was passed by the Senate Commerce Committee earlier this year.
“Brown and Hutchison have introduced the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act in the previous two Congresses,” according to a press release on Brown’s Senate Web page. “U.S. Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) has introduced a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. Last congress, the bill unanimously passed out of committee with broad bipartisan support but was held up on the floor by a single senator, never receiving a full Senate vote.”
The Act is based on National Transportation Safety Board recommendations that were released in a 2009 Motorcoach Safety Action Plan, and some of which date back to proposals back in 1968, according to Brown’s office.
The bill would require:
- Safety belts and stronger seating systems to ensure occupants stay in their seats in a crash.
- Improved commercial driver training. Currently, no training is required by federal regulation.
- Anti-ejection glazing windows to prevent passengers from being easily thrown outside the motorcoach.
- Strong, crush-resistant roofs that can withstand rollovers.
- Improved protection against fires by reducing flammability of the motorcoach interior, and better training for operators in the case of fire.
- 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.
- Strengthened motorcoach vehicle safety inspections including roadside inspections, safety audits, and state and motor carrier programs for identifying vehicle defects.
- Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs) with real-time capabilities to track precise vehicle location that cannot be tampered with by the driver.
“Simply put, this bill will save lives,” Brown said in a statement. “These safety measures are common-sense safety features that have been–and are–widely used. By equipping buses with seatbelts, stronger roofs, and safer windows, we can prevent deaths and minimize injuries. With bus ridership increasing, it’s more important than ever to pass this legislation. We need to ensure bus trips don’t tu rn into tragedies.”
We here at MyPhillyLawyer believe it’s time for Congress to act on this important issue. The lives of innocent passengers are being risked each day due to dangers on tour buses from operators, equipment and other risk factors. Tougher rules and regulations are needed to ensure that commercial tour bus operations are safer across the nation for millions of passengers who ride annually.
If you or someone you love is seriously injured in an accident involving a tour bus or charter bus, we here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to help you fight for you and to protect your legal rights as part of your damage claims.
When Winning Matters Most, call MyPhillyLawyer today.