There is a tremendous need for significant improvements in the regulation of buses that operate on our nation’s highways. Currently there is an inadequate patchwork of federal and state protections. Over the past several years we have seen a large increase in low-cost bus services in the U.S. That’s primarily because of more casinos opening around the country. Safety experts say that regulations and safety oversight have not kept up with the growth in the industry. Even the most basic improvements have been very slow in coming. A prime example is the need for seat belts in buses.
The rule requiring seat belts on newly manufactured buses that went into effect last month was first proposed by safety experts more than 30 years ago. This came after a horrific 1968 bus crash in California that took 19 lives. Recently, a tour bus crashed into a truck on the way back from a casino, killing 12 passengers and the driver. The bus did not have seat belts. Nor do thousands of other buses that will be on U.S. highway for years to come, and that’s because there is no requirement to install them. Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), had this to say after the recent California bus crash:
We don’t invest into doing an adequate job to protect people from incidents like this. That individuals who ride buses are at lower income levels of our society concerns me. We should ensure that we have the same safety standards for everyone.
There are two standards of safety for transportation in our nation – one for aviation and one for ground transportation. The level of safety for buses is grossly inadequate. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the federal agency that regulates buses and trucks, has 1,140 employees to oversee 525,000 companies across the nation. The agency relies largely on state law-enforcement teams to conduct inspections and hand out citations. Interestingly, about half of the agency’s $600-million budget is sent to states to help pay for truck and bus inspections.
The U.S. Transportation Department’s inspector general launched an audit of truck and bus safety last year, saying that investigations into a series of fatal crashes had disclosed that the motor carrier administration had failed to uncover any problems. Safety reviews had been conducted prior to these accidents, one about five days before the bus was in a crash.
It appears that the number of new casinos in the U.S. has resulted in an increase in the number of “tour buses” needed to haul folks to the casinos. NTSB member Earl Weener recently disclosed that the investigation was ongoing into accidents involving casino buses. However, the agency has yet to publish any data. Representatives of the bus industry claim that the bus-related tragedies are very rare. Peter Pantuso, President of the American Bus Association, contends that the industry is “highly regulated.” Based on our experience, that is certainly far from reality.
Motor carrier administration data reveals that in 2014, 44 occupants of buses were killed in crashes. That is similar to other years over the past decade. An additional 233 people in other vehicles or walking were killed in crashes with buses. By contrast, although the two industries carry roughly the same number of passengers annually, no airline passengers were killed in the U.S. that year and few accidents involving major U.S. airlines have occurred in the last decade.
There is definitely a need for stronger regulation of buses of all kinds. However, there is a tremendous need in the “tour bus” industry and for school buses. It will be interesting to see how the Trump Administration reacts in this area of concern. Hopefully, President Trump will see the need and provide strong leadership.
Source: Los Angeles Times