We are fighting for safer crew vans

April 22, 2011

By UTU International President Mike Futhey

In a horrendous March accident in Kelso, Wash., a conductor trainee and a locomotive engineer were killed when the carrier-provided shuttle van in which they were riding was struck by a moving train at a private highway-rail grade crossing. A second conductor was critically injured and the van driver also was killed.

An investigation will determine the cause of this tragedy.

The UTU has long fought for better shuttle-van safety, and we have been successful in only a few states in gaining passage of legislation to improve shuttle-van safety.

As tragic as this accident was, it may be the spark to convince more state legislatures of the need to regulate shuttle-van service.

As our state legislative directors have documented time and again, shuttle-van drivers are almost always non-union and required to work long hours under horrendous working conditions. Understandably, driver turnover is substantial, which has frustrated previous efforts to organize these drivers.

We have documented far too many shocking incidents of shuttle vans with bald tires, van drivers so tired they fell asleep at the wheel or appeared to be under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

In states where we have gained laws regulating shuttle vans, minimum driver-hiring qualifications and disqualification standards have been imposed, along with maximum hours-of-service limitations, driver drug-testing requirements, annual state DOT inspections of the vans, and state DOT certification of vehicle maintenance inspections and repair records.

We have also been successful in gaining requirements for fully functioning heat and air-conditioning, secure locations for baggage and fully operational seat belts.

Our national legislative office will continue lobbying for federal regulation of shuttle-vans, as vans carrying eight or fewer passengers are exempt from laws and regulations applying to larger passenger vehicles.

I am asking state legislative directors to advise local officers and general chairpersons whether their state has legislation regulating shuttle-van service, and to include details to assist our operating crews in making appropriate reports of safety violations that can be pursued with state authorities.

Even in states without shuttle-van safety regulations, reports of unsafe conditions and driver actions should be reported to state legislative directors to assist them in convincing lawmakers for the need to pass appropriate safety legislation.

If accidents or injuries do occur while a passenger in a carrier-supplied shuttle van, contact a UTU designated legal counsel for advice. The names and contact information for UTU designated legal counsel can be obtained at www.utu.org, or from local officers, general chairpersons, or state legislative directors.