In the span of a few days in early 2011, two bus accidents – one of which involved a bus traveling from a casino in Connecticut to New York City – put the spotlight back on the issue of bus safety. In total, 17 people were killed in the two accidents – 15 in the New York City bus crash alone.
In reaction to these recent crashes and others, there are currently two proposals to increase bus safety before Congress. However, there are already a number of rules and regulations on the books, with the rules regulating drivers’ hours-of-service being some of the most important.
In an effort to keep all passengers and others on the road safe, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates the number of hours that a bus driver is allowed to remain behind the wheel. There are three basic kinds of hours-of-service regulations:
- On-Duty Limit – after bus drivers are on duty for 15 hours, they are not allowed to drive until eight consecutive hours of off-duty time are taken; however, in an absurd loophole, a driver may continue to conduct non-driving work (like paperwork or vehicle maintenance) after the 15 hours has run.
- Driving Limit – the FMCSA only allows bus drivers a total of 10 hours of driving time, driven consecutively or broken up, after eight consecutive hours off duty. Once drivers use all of their drive time, they must be off duty for eight consecutive hours before driving again.
- Weekly Limit – called the “60/70 rule,” bus drivers are only allowed to drive a certain number of hours in a given (rolling) week, either 60 hours in a seven-day week or 70 hours in an eight-day week.
In December of 2010, the FMCSA proposed to amend the rules pertaining to bus driver hours-of-service. The proposed rules will serve to improve safety by further limiting the number of hours that a bus driver can spend behind the wheel and on duty.
Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act
Introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act (MESA) would call for:
- Seat belts to be installed in all new buses
- Seat belts to be retrofitted into all older buses
- Passenger ejection protection by installing stronger seats and windows
- Bus roofs that are crush resistant
- More stringent inspection requirements
- Tracking technology similar to the “black box” technology used in airplanes
As is, the American Bus Association chose not to endorse this Act, choosing instead to endorse the Bus Uniform Standards and Enhanced Safety (BUSES) Act of 2011. The American Bus Association – according to information provided by Philly.com – claims that implementing the MESA would cost upwards of $80,000 per bus, according to Philly.com. They argue that the hefty cost associated with compliance would surely result in increased fares that would have a disproportionately negative impact on smaller carrier companies.
While the bus industry claims that the costs of this Act would be too high, Philly.com reports that Joan Claybrook, a former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and currently with Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety (a safety advocacy organization), claims that even a 10 cent raise in fares would be all it takes to cover the increased costs of this Act. If Ms. Claybrook is right, 10 cents is a small price to pay for safety.
The BUSES Act of 2011
Endorsed by the American Bus Association, the Bus Uniform Standards and Enhanced Safety (BUSES) Act of 2011 takes a different approach to bus safety than the MESA. It proposes that – after a period of research and testing – the NHTSA should enact uniform safety rules for the bus industry that would improve safety through:
- Installing seat belts
- Strengthening roofs and windows
- Enhancing emergency egress
- Improving fire protection standards
- Establishing minimum standards for all drivers seeking a commercial driver’s license (CDL) with a passenger endorsement
After the safety rules are set forth, the Act would allow up to an 18-year timeframe for retrofitting older buses. To help offset increased costs associated with improving safety, the Act would also provide grants and tax credits to bus companies.
Both proposed Acts seek to improve passenger safety, albeit in somewhat different ways; however, one safety aspect that both have in common is seat belts. According the NHTSA, seat belts on buses reduce the risk of death by an astounding 77 percent during a rollover crash.
Potentially Liable Parties
The bus industry has made it known that, since new safety rules cost money, they favor the least restrictive safety rules. Whether or not the safety measures are implemented, though, bus accidents happen. When bus crashes occur, several different parties may be responsible, including:
- The bus driver
- The bus company
- The bus manufacturer
- The manufacturer of the bus’ components, including the windows, seats or tires
- Other drivers, especially those engaging in drunk driving or distracted driving
- Designers or builders of the roads
- Municipalities responsible for maintaining roadways on which buses travel
If you have been injured while traveling on a bus, speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. A New York lawyer can help you hold accountable the parties that are responsible for your injuries, allowing you to recover compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If a loved one has been fatally wounded in a bus accident, an attorney can help you file a wrongful death lawsuit that seeks compensation for medical bills, funeral expenses, loss of consortium and lost future earnings.