Back in the days of black-and-white TV, a musical ad encouraged us to “see the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet,” and the highways are still full of families doing just that. But many folks are fed up with fighting traffic, navigating unfamiliar city streets and hunting for a parking space, so they turn to motorcoach companies to take them to their sightseeing destinations. Bus travel is a convenient, economical option, but one that carries its own risks.
QUESTIONING THE SAFETY OF TOUR BUS TRAVEL
On average, 21 occupants of motorcoaches and large buses are killed each year, and 7,934 are injured, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2011, there were eight serious tourist bus crashes, resulting in 28 occupant deaths, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) says. The following May, that agency launched a safety crackdown which closed 26 bus operations deemed to be imminent hazards to public safety. Operation Quick Strike in 2013 shut down 52 bus companies and 340 vehicles after an eight-month effort targeting unsafe motorcoach operations. It involved companies in 22 states and the District of Columbia.
Bus companies were found to have committed these safety violations, among others:
- Employing drivers who did not have a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL)
- Failing to have alcohol- and drug-testing programs for drivers
- Operating vehicles that had not been regularly inspected and repaired
- Exceeding hours-of-service limits.
Common Causes of Motorcoach Accidents
Bus accidents are often caused by the same things that cause other motor vehicle accidents – things like driver distraction, fatigue, tire blowouts and other maintenance issues. But when the vehicle involved weighs 20 tons and carries dozens of passengers, the consequences of negligent operation can be severe and felt by many.
Distracted drivers caused 13 percent of fatal motor coach accidents, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation review of fatal accidents between 2001 and 2010. Drivers of commercial motor vehicles, including tour buses, are not permitted to use hand-held mobile phones, but they may use hands-free devices. Texting, entering or reading, is strictly prohibited.
Impaired drivers of motorcoaches should be weeded out by drug and alcohol testing, but this is not always the case. Under federal safety regulations, employers must conduct pre-employment drug testing, post-accident testing, random drug and alcohol testing, and reasonable-suspicion testing. Drivers who test positive or are found to have violated drug and alcohol regulations are to be subject to follow-up testing. Unfortunately, some recent inspections have found that drivers with drug and alcohol citations are still getting behind the wheel of tour buses.
Inadequate maintenance of tour buses isn’t just negligent – it’s a violation of federal law. The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations states that “[e]very motor carrier and intermodal equipment provider must systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained, all motor vehicles and intermodal equipment subject to its control.” Nevertheless, a California bus company was shut down in 2013 after eight people were killed in a bus that had a history of unaddressed maintenance violations, including brake problems and fluid leaks.
Driver fatigue plagues bus drivers who push the limits in their effort to make deadlines and save money. Federal regulations impose limits on hours of service (HOS) for interstate bus drivers. No interstate motorcoach driver can drive more than 10 consecutive hours. No interstate bus driver can drive for any period after having been “on duty” for 60 hours in any 7 consecutive days (if the driver’s employer does not operate every day of the week) or 70 hours in any 8 consecutive days (if the driver’s employer does operate every day of the week).
Incompetent tour bus drivers are a menace on the road. It takes special training and skill to operate a motorcoach, so every driver of a vehicle designed to transport 16 or more people (including the driver) is required to possess a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) with a passenger endorsement. Disreputable carriers, however, try to skirt this requirement and hire drivers who lack the necessary certification.
WHO SHOULD YOU CALL?
If you’re considering riding a tour bus, you can use an app designed by the FMCSA to help you plan a safe trip. The SaferBus mobile app allows you to check a bus company’s safety record to see if it is legally allowed to operate and learn about any adverse reports or unsatisfactory ratings it may have been given. Visit the FMCSA’s website to get detailed instructions on how to download and use the app; it could help you avoid being in a bus crash.
Even though a bus accident is likely to stir up a flurry of state and national investigations, their goal is to determine the “why” of the accident. That doesn’t answer the question of “what” the victims and survivors can do to be compensated for their expenses and anguish. For that, you need the “who” – Steve Heisler, the Injury Lawyer.
If you’re one of the unfortunate travelers who have been injured in a bus accident, or if you lost a loved one in a tour bus crash, call Steve Heisler, Maryland bus crash lawyer, at (410) 625-4878. With Steve’s many years of experience practicing law in and around Baltimore and the District of Columbia, he will be able to clearly explain your legal options and provide compassionate support in a difficult time. Call Steve today.