Has enforcement been the missing piece?

Posted on November 18, 2009 by Nicole Schlosser

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Transportation released a new motorcoach safety action plan, focusing on issues including driver fatigue and inattention, vehicle rollovers, occupant ejections and oversight of unsafe carriers.

The plan is available on the U.S. DOT Website. In short, the next steps will be to protect occupants by initiating a rulemaking for installing seat belts on all motorcoaches; address driver fatigue by requiring electronic on-board recording devices on all coaches; ensure safer driver performance by forbidding texting and the use of cell phones and other similar devices; developing a national drug and alcohol testing database to assist carriers in identifying a driver with a history of substance abuse; and to enhance oversight of carriers attempting to evade sanctions and of other unsafe motorcoach companies.

That last one may be especially urgent.

Over the past year, I’ve asked motorcoach operators about safety issues in general, and the prospect of adding seat belts in particular. The response tends to be that, while operators are very concerned about the safety of both drivers and passengers, and want to do everything possible to that end, adding new equipment can be costly, complicated and time-consuming. These operators say they feel that the onus for safety is often placed unfairly on those who are already safe. Many have also pointed to recent motorcoach accidents with fatalities that could have been prevented, had coach inspectors been doing their jobs.

Dallas Fort Worth’s Star-Telegram has reported on the recent arrest of three inspectors linked to the Sherman, Texas bus crash in 2008. The Department of Public Safety conducted a three-week investigation into the company in question and discovered that it had issued hundreds of inspection stickers a month to vehicles that were never inspected. Clearly, even more diligent enforcement is necessary at all levels.

Hopefully, the rules/results stemming from the U.S. DOT plan will strike an appropriate balance between guiding enforcement of safety and realistic expectations for what adjustments operators can make. What are your expectations/hopes/fears?

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