The shameful state of bus-safety advances

March 31, 2011

WASHINGTON — Observing that her five-year-old soccer-mom van contains safety technology more advanced than is integrated into many motor coaches, National Transportation Safety Board Chairperson Deborah Hersman March 30 chided Congress and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for dragging their feet on bus safety legislation and regulation.

Hersman testified before the Senate Transportation Subcommittee that available technology, if installed on motor coaches, could prevent many accidents and save many more lives. NTSB recommendations to this end have been ignored by Congress and federal regulators for years, Hersman said.

Safety advocate Joan Claybrook, who previously chaired the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told the subcommittee that the safety improvements advocated by the NTSB could be installed at the cost of five cents per bus ticket, based on annual bus ridership of about 750 million passengers.

Bus industry executives have been fighting for years to block mandated safety improvements, such as stronger roofs that won’t shear off or crush in accidents, and stronger windows, complaining the cost is too great.

Technology — such as electronic stability control to help prevent rollovers, cruise control that adjusts a vehicle’s speed to traffic conditions, and exits making it easier for passengers to escape after accidents — are examples of technology that exist “and it’s important that it be applied to the vehicles most in need of it,” Hersman testified.

The only safety improvements for motor coaches in the process of being mandated by the federal government are bans on texting while driving, the use of cellphones, installation of on-board recorders and installation of passenger seat belts — and even those rules have not be made final by regulators, the subcommittee was told.

The Department of Transportation testified that its attempt at requiring tougher driving training and testing standards have been challenged and blocked by courts. It has been more than six years since the DOT set out to redraft such rules.

Legislation was introduced in the Senate earlier this month to require much of what the NSTB advocates; but previous attempts as passage of similar legislation failed to gain sufficient votes in Congress.

To read more about that legislation, click on the following link: