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March 25, 2011

What is best for motorcoach safety: Science or politics?

by Alex Roman - Also by this author

In the wake of the bus crash earlier this month in New York, there is a wave of support growing to pass legislation reintroduced by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) on the fourth anniversary of the Bluffton (Ohio) University baseball team bus crash that killed seven in Atlanta.

The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act would require the safety measures below for motorcoaches, which are defined as buses used in intercity fixed-route, commuter, charter and tour bus services:

  • Seat belts and stronger seating systems to ensure passengers stay in their seats in a crash.
  • Improvements in commercial bus driver training.
  • Anti-ejection glazed windows.
  • Crush-resistant roofs to withstand rollovers.
  • Strengthened motor vehicle inspections.
  • Electronic On Board Recorders (EOBRs).
  • The establishment of a National Commercial Motor Vehicle Medical Registry to ensure no unqualified operator is allowed to drive.

Currently, as part of the Motorcoach Safety Action Plan, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently analyzing comments made during its Notice Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for requiring seat belts on buses and is expected to release its finalized rule soon.

"In 2010, Secretary LaHood announced a proposal that would require new motorcoaches to have lap-shoulder belts to help prevent driver and passenger ejections during a collision. The agency is working to finalize the rule," said NHTSA in a statement to METRO Magazine. "Other steps to improve motorcoach roof structure, fire safety protection and emergency egress are also under way."

NHTSA also added that it has completed its research on roof crush and rollover structural integrity test procedures and performance requirements and is planning to issue a NPRM later this year.

For its part, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) also released NPRM on a regulation that would require commercial bus and truck carriers to install EOBRs to monitor drivers' Hours of Service. The comment period for the proposed regulation is set to end at the end of this month.

The major issue that faces the motorcoach industry is if the so-called Brown-Hutchison bill is passed, it would require carriers to comply with the law immediately, and could include the retrofitting of some of their older buses, which could prove to be both costly and dangerous.

On the flip side, NHTSA's proposed regulation would require seat belts three years from the date the rule is finalized, giving carriers enough room to comply, and, at this point, does not require older equipment to be retrofitted. NHTSA's proposal is also based on scientific research that has helped determine what would be the safest way to go about implementing seat belts on motorcoaches.

With U.S. Department of Transportation's NHTSA and FMCSA already making progress on many of the things proposed, it would seem that the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act is another case of too little, too late by those on Capitol Hill.

Sure, everybody in the industry recognizes that losing just one passenger is too much, but it seems as if it is better if we continue to move toward enhanced motorcoach safety using the science-based research being performed instead of making important decisions based on politics.

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "FTA bus test adjustment touches on weighty health problem" here.

 

 

Alex Roman

Managing Editor


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  • Rodger James Sillars[ March 25th, 2011 @ 11:59am ]

    Your text provides no supporting documentation for the reference to creating costly and dangerous consequences to the proposed legislation requiring retrofits. The costly seems obvious, but the dangerous?

  • A.G. "Doc" Doxtater Sr[ March 25th, 2011 @ 2:54pm ]

    The subject of coach seatbelts has been bantered about for years.but until the actual seat design is revised, it's a mute topic. On the other shoe, how about an air bag system for the driver. Let's face it, we are the first ones at the scene of an accident Thanks

  • Alex Roman[ March 25th, 2011 @ 3:37pm ]

    Rodger-You are right, sorry. Retrofitting could be dangerous because the flooring on some of the older coaches may not be strong enough to support seat belts. As one long-time industry professional I spoke to explained it: "Seat belts are an engineering device...you can't just bolt them to the floor, they will actually end up hurting people instead of helping them."

  • David R. Brown[ March 26th, 2011 @ 6:05am ]

    Alex, nice treatise, and good conclusions. The fact is that much of the MESA could have been both effective, and passed long ago, had they dropped the onerous requirement for seat belts everywhere. While I support solid science as a basis for any new regulation, the bigger issue is enforcement of existing rules. If you look back thru the crash data from the last five years, or even the last two weeks, you will find that most accidents are caused by driver error, and that this is compounded when people who are improperly trained, illegally operating, or just simply ignoring laws they know are rarely enforced, are behind the wheel. The bus industry is taking a political beating right now, but we shouldn't stand for it. As an industry, we offer safety seminars, safety training, enlist the help of some of the best safety consultants, and recognize safety leaders, all in an effort to apply peer pressure and promote industry wide safety initiatives. What we lack, and where the guilt should rest, is with the enforcement community. Sure, they have increased inspections the last few years, and the new (political) statistical system is highly touted, but they continue to have little interest for operators working out of a shed or a parking lot somewhere. Worse, when they do find serious violations, they do not take the steps necessary to get compliance, or shut that operator down. The excuses are that it's political or not enough manpower. It's time for excuses to end, and enforcement to have effect. How can we know what new rules would truly help until we engage the existing ones?

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Janna Starcic

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