Court Radio at 7 AM Sunday: Beware of Safety Problems When Traveling on Cheap Tour Bus Lines
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on March 31st, 2012
With the summer travel season approaching and gasoline prices continuing to rise, many people are actively searching for cheaper ways to travel than in their own cars and SUVs to get around the country for fun and relaxation.
Many are turning to the cheap bus companies that have been springing up in the last few years which offer rides for as little as a few dollars each way. The deals can look very attractive, until you start to look at the spotty safety records of many of these companies and the bus fleets and operators they are putting on the roads.
That’s the topic we’ll be addressing on “Court Radio” tomorrow on Sunday morning as MyPhillyLawyer managing partner Dean Weitzman and his co-host David Rapoport discuss the topic of these tour bus companies and some of the horrific crashes they have been involved in over the last several years.
Also joining in for the show will be Todd M. Richman, a MyPhillyLawyer attorney who is presently handling two cases involving clients who were seriously injured in tour bus crashes.
Court Radio is broadcast live at 7 a.m. every Sunday morning on Philadelphia’s WRNB 100.3 FM, with a simulcast on Magic 95.9 FM in Baltimore. You can also listen live on the Internet at WRNB 100.3 or on Magic 95.9 via streaming audio.
Last March, two people were killed when a privately owned tour bus crashed into a guardrail and a concrete embankment on the New Jersey Turnpike and veered into a drainage ditch on the side of the highway, according to a story in The Star-Ledger newspaper in Newark, N.J. Forty other passengers were injured on the bus, which was heading to Philadelphia from Chinatown in New York. MyPhillyLawyer is representing two passengers on this bus. The tour bus company involved in this crash has one of the worst driver safety records in the bus industry, according to a story in The Star-Ledger.
And last August, another tour 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, The Star-Ledger reported. The driver of the bus died several days after the crash due to critical injuries, while at least 16 other people were injured.
In another incident last 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.
The worst tour bus crash last year in the U.S. also occurred last March when 14 passengers were killed and 19 others were 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 safety concerns of these commercial bus lines are very real, Richman said.
“In these times when people are having difficulty with gas prices and airfare prices, or even being able to afford to commute to work, people are taking these low-priced tour buses to their destinations,” he said. “College students will soon be coming home for summer break using buses like these, too. Every person who uses them is at risk.”
The problem is that there are federal safety regulations that apply to the companies, buses and drivers, but that hiring, training and company operations are still able to fall through the cracks, Richman said.
“These buses are being regulated by the federal government under the same exact regulations that regulate tractor-trailers, but the bus companies are not supervising hiring and training properly from driver selection to servicing the vehicles,” he said. “They’re selecting drivers who are not qualified or can never be qualified because of a history of poor driving, criminal backgrounds and other issues. And they’re getting away with it because they are often hiring people who fly under the radar.”
What this means, Richman said, is that if you are considering travel on one of these cheap bus lines, you have to do your homework to be sure they have a good safety record and find a travel alternative if their safety record is subpar.
“You really need to screen the tour bus company that you select,” Richman said.
One way to do that, Richman said, is to carefully check 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.
“You can type in the name of a bus company on these Web sites and it will give you their safety history, license status and more information,” Richman said. “Being aware is critical and can help you avoid many problems with unsafe operators.”
Among the biggest safety problems found with some of the tour bus companies are drivers who are speeding and operators who are falsifying their driving records so they can drive more hours in a shift than are permissible under the law.
Be sure to listen in to Court Radio at 7 a.m. Sunday to hear the whole discussion on tour bus safety with co-hosts Dean Weitzman and David Rapoport and their guest, attorney Todd Richman. And remember to call in with your own questions and comments.
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