Anne Ferro, the administrator of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), has announced a three-prong plan to improve the safety of long-distance bus travel, by strengthening and accelerating the agency’s oversight of unsafe bus companies.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Motorcoach [Long-Distance Bus] Safety Action Plan’s 2012 update:
… [D]uring the 10-year period of 2001 through 2010, motor coach crashes have resulted in an average of 17 motor coach occupant fatalities per year. Some crashes also resulted in additional fatalities and injuries of pedestrians, drivers, and passengers of other vehicles involved in these crashes. Each of these fatalities is a tragedy that the U.S. Department of Transportation strives to prevent. Passenger safety is a top priority in the Department and, as a result, requires added vigilance.
The Action Plan says that in 2011, there were eight serious long-distance bus accidents that resulted in 28 fatalities, crashes that put an unprecedented national focus on the safety of motor coach travel and motor coach companies. The long-distance bus industry has had a higher average number of crash fatalities during the past 10 years than the previous decade, despite changes in vehicle miles traveled, the Plan says.
As Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo writes in a guest post for the blog Fast Lane, “DOT is committed to ensuring that commercial buses traveling between states are well-maintained and operated by men and women who are alert and driving responsibly.” Americans now take 15% more trips on buses than on airlines, he notes.
In the first phase of the plan, beginning in April, DOT will target those companies with the highest risk of accidents by assigning specially trained investigators to assess their buses, Szabo writes. The investigators will be helped by industry, law enforcement, and “advocate stakeholders.”
DOT will also work on national risk assessment and outreach efforts. The department will assess safety management controls and all motor coach companies, revise requirements for training safety investigators and inspectors, and increase efforts to educate the public and the tour industry on safe long-distance bus travel, Szabo writes.
The new plan builds on programs and strategies the DOT has undertaken over the last four years. For example, inspections of long-distance buses have nearly tripled from 2005 (when there were 12,991) to 2012 (when there were 33,684), Szabo writes. The inspections in 2012 alone resulted in 880 bus drivers fired and 1,831 buses being placed out of service; and in May of 2012, FMCSA shut down 26 companies that routinely ignored safety rules, Szabo writes.
Szabo gives travelers ways they can evaluate bus companies, writing:
Bus passengers can also take their safety into their own hands by using FMCSA’s SaferBus app, which is now available for the Android operating system. This user friendly app gives riders a quick and free way to review a company’s safety record before buying a ticket or while waiting to board a bus. DOT is continuing to work with app developers to improve this safety app across a variety of platforms to make it even more useful to travelers.
In addition, FMCSA’s Look Before You Book website offers travelers the information they need to make smart decisions before booking a bus trip. FMCSA also offers a pre-trip checklist and a safety violation complaint hotline, 1-888-DOT-SAFT.