DOT Launches Bus Safety Strike Force
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) launched two weeks of surprise safety inspections of motorcoaches, tour buses, school buses, and other passenger vehicles. The inspection sweep started in conjunction with Friday’s national Motorcoach Safety Summit in Washington, D.C., and will continue through October 7.
“This summit is about preventing needless tragedies and saving lives,” said U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood. “We’ve seen the horrific consequences when motorcoach companies do not make safety a top priority. With everyone at the table, we can achieve our shared goal of raising the safety bar for the motorcoach industry.”
As Jeff Plungis reports for Bloomberg:
There have been at least seven fatal bus crashes and 27 deaths this year, including a March accident in the Bronx, New York, that killed 15 people returning from a Connecticut casino.
After a May 31 crash in Virginia that killed four, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood vowed that U.S. inspectors would use ‘every legal and enforcement tool available to shut down unsafe bus companies.’
According to FMCSA, approximately 4,000 motorcoach companies are registered with the agency with the authority to operate as interstate passenger carriers. Since 2008, 23% of all passenger carriers operating authority applications have been rejected. During the last four fiscal years, FMCSA has taken 114 passenger carriers out of service after the companies received an unfit safety rating. And in fiscal 2011, the agency prevented eight unsafe bus companies from operating and stopped 11 bus companies with poor safety records from reincarnating as new businesses.
Friday’s Safety Summit schedule included a discussion of the DOT’s strong approach to strengthening bus safety, and a panel covering the points of view of people who are responsible for the everyday safety of passengers, vehicles, and drivers. During the afternoon of the summit the schedule called for participants to focus on ways to train bus drivers, requirements for hours of service for motorcoaches, and outreach tools to encourage consumers to choose a safe bus company every time.
To that end, FMCSA will be releasing a new smartphone application in November that will give consumers access to information about each bus company’s safety record before customers book a trip. The app will also make it easy for the public to submit safety violations to FMCSA’s National Consumer Compliant Database.
The DOT has asked Congress to do several things to increase bus safety:
- To give FMCSA more authority to pursue unsafe “reincarnated” bus companies by establishing a uniform federal standard to make it easier to determine if a new carrier is a reincarnation of an old, unsafe one;
- To allow FMCSA to conduct bus safety inspections while buses are on their routes;
- To require new bus companies to undergo complete safety audits before being open for business; and
- To raise the penalty for bus companies that operate illegally or without authority from $2,000 a day to $25,000 per violation.
FMCSA expects to issue a final rule later this year on its proposal to prohibit commercial drivers from reaching for, holding, or dialing a cell phone while operating a commercial vehicle. The agency banned texting by commercial drivers in January 2010.
You can see the DOT’s new pre-trip safety checklist, “Think Safety: Every Trip, Every Time” here: http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety-security/pcs/Index.aspx. It is designed to help consumers evaluate a bus company’s safety record, safety rating, and U.S. DOT operating authority before buying a ticket or hiring a bus company for group travel. FMCSA encourages consumers to report any unsafe bus company, vehicle or driver to the agency through a toll free hotline: 1-888-DOT-SAFT (1-888-368-7238) or FMCSA’s National Consumer Complaint Database.
Image by U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, used under Fair Use: Reporting.