Rising bus death toll accentuates safety reform need

July 25, 2011

As the UTU continues to lobby safety regulators and Congress on the need for bus-operator fatigue abatement, improved driver training and tougher bus-safety inspections, tragic events are placing even more emphasis on this topic.

Since January, according to Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, 32 have been killed in 17 separate bus accidents, and 323 injured. The death and injury toll already has eclipsed the 30 killed and 272 injured during all of 2010.

As the UTU Bus Department and National Legislative Office have informed safety regulators and Congress, many low-fare tour bus companies that are non-union force their drivers to work under horrendous conditions at low pay — and often with little sleep.

It is common for non-union drivers employed by low-fare tour-bus firms to sleep in their coaches between driving assignments. Many of these bus companies have been cited for safety violations, yet they continue to operate.

The New York Times has reported that low-fare tour buses transport millions of passengers annually and regulators rely on handwritten logbooks to determine if drivers are working with insufficient rest. An official of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety called the logs “comic books” and alleged they are often falsified or not filled in at all.

The UTU continues to reach out to unorganized bus operators, informing them that under UTU contracts, our members cannot be forced to violate federal hours-of-service regulations, and can refuse to operate unsafe buses without fear of losing their jobs.
Some states have stepped up safety enforcement. In New York, the state’s transportation commissioner told the Associated Press that since March, more than 3,000 surprise bus inspections were made, resulting in 304 drivers and 238 buses taken out of service.