In the wake of the Atlanta motorcoach accident last March that killed five Bluffton University baseball players, the driver and his wife, a new bill has been introduced to improve overall passenger safety on motorcoaches.
The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2007 (AB2326), which was introduced in November by Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), would require the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) to overhaul federal safety standards applicable to motorcoaches and improve the operational requirements of drivers and companies.
The proposed bill lays out a three-year plan for motorcoach safety upgrades that includes retrofitting buses with safety belts, window glazing to prevent ejections and implementing new fire suppression systems within the first year of its enactment.
Provisions proposed that would be effective two years after enactment include improved compartmentalization and roof strength standards, as well as the installation of systems to reduce the likelihood of a rollover.
The installation of adaptive cruise control systems that give drivers a warning of traffic dangers ahead and automatic fire suppression systems would be mandatory for coach operators three years after the proposed bill’s enactment.
Additional provisions in the proposal include: Several studies of crash worthiness and crash-avoidance potential;
Enhanced oversight of the bus industry by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration;
A standard training curriculum and mandatory driver training;
Enhanced CDL requirements for bus and coach drivers;
Installation of electronic on-board recorders; and
Enhanced annual vehicle inspection programs.
The legislative proposal offers a phase-in period of two years, with a possible hardship provision of five years. The proposed bill doesn’t include any funding for motorcoach operators to implement these changes.
Both the United Motorcoach Association (UMA) and American Bus Association (ABA) are concerned with implementing standards, such as retrofitting coaches with safety belts, that haven’t necessarily been proven to work.
“First of all, it’s a laundry list of what are essentially unfunded mandates for the industry,” said Clyde Hart, ABA’s senior vice president, governmental affairs. “Each one of those [mandates], separately, should probably take more than the one, two or even three years to come out with, because frankly, there’s no research that has been done that we’re aware of that would allow any agency to come up with standards.”
Victor Parra, president and CEO of the UMA said that testing needs
to be completed before changes are mandated.
“It’s not that we’re against seatbelts, it’s that we want it to be done properly so if there’s a better way to protect passengers we can make sure it gets done,” he said. “We just have to make sure that science drives the policy.”
Hart explained that safety belts have been proven to be effective in the case of a rollover, but that rollovers only account for approximately 10 percent of the accidents in the industry each year. He also added that the other 90 percent of accidents — rear- and front-end collisions — may see a higher rate of passenger injuries since seats would have to be reinforced to withstand the stress if seatbelts were implemented.
Both the UMA and ABA are in full support of another proposal that was first hatched by deceased representative Rep. Paul Gilmour (R-Ohio) and solicited input from both associations.
Known as HR4690, the proposal, which was recently picked up and introduced by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), would include money for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to conduct crash testing and research before implementing standards using what Hart calls a “reasonable timeline.”
In addition, the bill covers not only seatbelts but roof strengths, window glazing, fire suppression and emergency egress for passengers, or the five number one issues that the National Transportation Safety Board says need to be addressed.
Parra adds that safety is a major concern because without it the industry as a whole would suffer, therefore, he is pleased that both proposals have been made. “At least there’s two pieces of legislation that Congress can look at seriously and say what is the best way to approach this issue of safety on motorcoaches,” he said.