Calif. association shapes new ‘party bus’ law

Posted on November 14, 2012 by Brittany-Marie Swanson, Associate Editor

A bill aimed at preventing underage drinking on motorcoaches and so-called party buses underwent numerous revisions before being signed into law in September by California Gov. Jerry Brown.

The revisions of AB45, called the “Brett Studebaker Law,” were thanks to the California Bus Association, which became involved in the process after discovering several of the bill’s provisions could potentially complicate service and lower customer satisfaction.

The bill was prompted by the death of 19-year-old Studebaker in 2010, in which the teen struck a highway sound wall with a car after several hours of drinking on a party bus.

In its initial form, the bill would have required charter operators to read a statement discouraging underage drinking and check IDs — no matter who was onboard — according to Tom Giddens, president of the California Bus Association and Garden Grove, Calif.-based Pacific Coachways Trailways.

Under the original provisions, “if I pull up to a school and pick up a group of kindergarteners to take them to the pumpkin farm, I’m going to have to read them the speech [about underage drinking],” he said.

Giddens also pointed out that the original wording of the bill was based on a decades-old law aimed at limousines and did not make sense in the context of driving a large bus.

“The driver was supposed to be watching the whole time to see if somebody drank on board while they were going down the road,” he explained. “The driver cannot be watching 40 feet back in their mirror and seeing somebody sitting in their seat drinking alcohol.”

For a year and a half, the association worked closely with the bill’s author, Assemblyman Jerry Hill, and others to create a bill that would improve safety without being a detriment to charter operators and their customers.

Now, an operator need only ask if alcohol will be onboard — if the answer is no, no more has to be done. If it turns out there is alcohol on the motorcoach after a customer initially says there will not be, the operator must decide whether to remove the alcohol or cancel the tour.

If there will be alcohol onboard as well as riders under the legal drinking age, a designee over the age of 25 from the group of passengers must be appointed. The designee will be held responsible for any “reasonably foreseeable” injuries or property damage caused by underage drinking.

“We need somebody in charge that’s 25 or older and they are going to have to sign a paper stating that they are legally responsible,” Giddens said, adding that the document must be returned to the operator three days prior to the trip.

If the driver notices that the designated chaperone is not preventing underage drinking, he or she must react. If the driver does not do so, the operator can face a fine of up to $2,000. A second violation may result in a fine of up to $2,000, a suspension of the operator’s certificate for up to 30 days, or both. The permit will be revoked permanently after a third violation.

“It’s not completely out of the driver’s hands — he’s not the one who has to monitor it all — but if he sees something serious happening, he can’t just stand aside,” Giddens explained.

Giddens said he’s happy about the changes and is hopeful that the law will make passengers safer.

“It’s all up to enforcement. If companies enforce it, it will change what’s on our paper work,” he said. “It won’t be extremely hard but it’s just something extra. It’s better than what it could have been by a long shot.”

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