Following two deadly commercial bus crashes, pressure is mounting to enact legislative change on bus safety measures.
At 5a.m. on Tuesday morning, four people were killed and 54 were injured after a bus ran off the road and overturned en route from Greensboro, North Carolina, to New York’s Chinatown.
The bus was operated by Sky Express, a Chinatown bus operator that has 46 violations, 17 citations, and 4 crashes on record. Its record includes violations for unsafe driving, fatigued driving, and improper driver and vehicle fitness. The driver of the bus, Kin Yiu Cheung, has been charged with reckless driving and is being held on $3,000 bail.
Recent reports say the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration sought to shut down Sky Express just days before the deadly crash, seeking an Unsatisfactory rating that would have taken it off the streets as of May 28. The bus line was given a 10-day extension to conduct another compliance review.
On Saturday, two people died after a charter bus rolled over on Interstate 90, traveling from Seattle to eastern Washington. The bus rolled after the driver swerved to avoid a car parked on the side of the road.
Two fatal charter bus crashes in New York in March of this year prompted the Department of Transportation to crack down on the commercial bus system.
Following 3,000 surprise inspections conducted between May 1 and May 15, 15 percent of drivers were removed from the roadways. Another 127 “out of service” citations were given to drivers who lacked a valid commercial license and 315 buses were declared unsafe and pulled off the road.
In May, the DOT announced new safety measures requiring more rigorous testing standards for commercial licensees and a ban on texting at the wheel for commercial drivers. They are also proposing new legislation requiring passenger seat belts.
Seat belts have been a legislative roadblock since they were first introduced in 1968.
The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2011 would require seat belts, additional driver training, crash-resistant roofs, stabilizers that prevent roll over, improved fire fighting and fire suppression equipment, and electronic on-board recorders that function like black boxes. A committee has reviewed this bill and approved it for a Senate vote, which has yet to be scheduled.
There are 4,000 licensed bus companies in the country, most of which oppose this legislation due to the cost.
According to Peter Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association, it could cost as much as $80,000 per bus to add the proposed safety measures.
Manufacturers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration say it would cost approximately $10,000 to $12,000 just to add seat belts to one $500,000 bus. It is worth noting that a 10-cent increase in ticket prices would likely cover this cost.
Not all companies are opposing seat belts. Greyhound has already begun to install lap and shoulder belts. Its entire BoltBus line is also equipped with seat belts.
The majority of the bus industry is putting its weight behind a different bill. The Bus Uniform Standards and Enhanced Safety bill requires more research from the DOT before issuing new safety standards, an 18-year window to retrofit buses, federal grants and tax credits to bus companies to pay for safety upgrades, minimum bus driver training requirements, and federal oversight of state requirements.
There are no mandated bus safety features attached to this bill. This bill is currently being reviewed by the House Small Business Committee.
By Lily J. Kosner for PeterGreenberg.com.
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