What is best for motorcoach safety: Science or politics?

Posted on March 25, 2011 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.



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