Management & Operations

Legislation to Play Critical Role in Motorcoach Safety

Posted on August 25, 2008 by Jack Burkert

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 [IMAGE]MET8p50-large-2.jpg[/IMAGE] There is change in the wind. As fuel prices climb, people are rediscovering the bus. Transit ridership growth has accelerated this year, and intercity coach travel has begun a resurgence not seen in the past 30 years. Once onboard, passengers are discovering that coach travel is both comfortable and safe, made all the more attractive with its ability to move passengers at energy consumption levels six times more efficient than their automobiles.

Safety is clearly a critical leverage point to maintaining this ridership growth. To continue high levels of safety performance, multiple approaches are demanded. Over the past 50 years, the bus and coach industry has built and maintained an enviable record of safety that demonstrates bus travel is significantly safer than other modes. Individual operating companies continue to make safety their highest priority through the application of responsible management, providing employee development and the use of traditional safety tools.

Legislation promises to play a role in building a safer passenger transportation network. Over the next year or so, as we approach the next “Highway” legislation reauthorization dates, much discussion will focus on new safety mandates that might be imposed through congressional legislation. Over the past quarter century, virtually all major bus safety initiatives have come as a result of congressional mandates. These include the Commercial Drivers License (CDL), driver substance abuse testing, and even some of the current medical and training rule proposals. Later this year, much of the post-election legislative agenda promises to be financial, accessibility or security-based in nature, but some current motorcoach crash testing promises to begin a new round of legislative activity on passenger protection.

Crash testing of motorcoaches is currently underway through the efforts of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency that mandates design and safety features in vehicles. In the aftermath of the serious bus crash in Atlanta in 2007, as well as other state legislation pending or in place, a legislative rush toward mandatory seat belt installation on motorcoaches was clearly underway.

Industry lobbyists in Washington, D.C., quickly made appeals for a more reasoned approach to passenger protection, appeals which were met with a positive response and resulted in quick funding of motorcoach crash tests. Several tests have already been conducted, with more on the way. While no agency report is expected for some time, insiders indicate that the first tests failed to demonstrate the intense occupant “G forces” that might have been expected.

Another safety factor is the current rulemaking activity of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). This agency, whose assignment of ensuring highway safety has not changed much since the 1930s, has begun public dialogue on a number of new ways to address the safety challenges of the 21st century. Some of these changes harness technology utilization; others enhance existing safety practices required of all passenger carriers. Still others, in partnership with the NHTSA, make research the path of choice to a safer future.

The list of FMCSA rulemaking proposals is an extensive one, with a number of proposals having remained on the open agenda for several years. Given that this year marks the end of tenure for a number of Bush Administration appointees, the agency has promised to complete action on several significant safety proposals. The desire of the current leadership for closure is understandable. They have been forced into battle on virtually every rule proposal they have issued the past several years, and to finally achieve some results has to be an appealing parting gesture. Politics is not supposed to impact or slow the activity of agencies such as the FMCSA, but inevitably it does when a new administration with its new leadership takes time to acclimate to current conditions and determine whether they can support (and thus permit continuing action) proposals in process.

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