On Thursday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the U.S. DOT will now require more rigorous commercial driver's license testing standards, seek new rules to strengthen passenger carrier and driver compliance with federal safety regulations, and empower consumers to review safety records of bus companies before booking.
Standing outside motorcoach buses at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., Secretary LaHood and Administrator Anne Ferro also announced that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will be teaming up with state law enforcement to conduct unannounced motorcoach inspections at popular travel destinations throughout the spring and summer peak travel season.
"These new requirements we are announcing today will help ensure passengers are safe and that carriers and drivers are in full compliance with federal safety regulations," said Secretary LaHood. "The public deserves to know that when they board any type of bus or commercial vehicle, they will be delivered to their destination safely."
Also Thursday, the FMCSA issued a new final rule requiring anyone applying for a commercial driver's license (CDL) to first obtain a commercial driver's learner's permit (CLP). The rule also requires all state licensing agencies to use a CDL testing system that meets the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators CDL knowledge and skill standards and prohibits the use of foreign language interpreters to reduce the potential for testing fraud.
Prior to this new rule, CDL applicants were not required to first obtain a learner's permit and CDL testing systems were not uniform nationwide.
Additionally, the U.S. DOT has put forth several new policy proposals designed to raise the bar for passenger carrier safety, including a provision that would give the U.S. DOT greater authority to pursue enforcement action against unsafe "reincarnated" passenger carriers by establishing a federal standard to help determine whether a new carrier is simply a reincarnation of an old, unsafe carrier.
The U.S. DOT is also proposing to require new motorcoach companies to undergo a full safety audit before receiving operating authority, revise current law to ensure a driver's CDL can be suspended or revoked for drug- and alcohol-related offenses committed in non-commercial vehicles, and raise the penalty from $2,000 a day to $25,000 for passenger carriers that attempt to operate without U.S. DOT authority.
"The public deserves affordable and efficient passenger bus services - but more importantly safe bus services," said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. "These measures will help us to better identify and swiftly weed out unsafe and irresponsible operators. Our agency is committed to using every available resource to improve passenger carrier and driver safety."
The U.S. DOT also unveiled a "Think Safety: Every Trip, Every Time" pre-trip safety checklist that will help consumers review a bus company's safety record, safety rating and U.S. DOT operating authority before buying a ticket or hiring a bus company for group travel. The checklist is now available online at FMCSA's Passenger Bus Safety website.
FMCSA is also encouraging consumers to report any unsafe bus company, vehicle or driver to the agency through a toll free hotline 1-888-DOT-SAFT (1-888-368-7238) or FMCSA's consumer complaint website.
Finally, the FMCSA and its state and local enforcement partners are supporting improved passenger bus safety with a growing number of unannounced bus safety inspections across the country. Starting this week and lasting throughout the summer travel season, the enforcement campaign will target popular destinations such as amusement parks, national parks, casinos and sports event venues.
Over the past five years, FMCSA has doubled the number of unannounced bus safety inspections and comprehensive safety reviews of the nation's estimated 4,000 passenger bus companies. Roadside safety inspections of motorcoaches jumped from 12,991 in 2005 to 25,703 in 2010, while compliance reviews rose from 457 in 2005 to 1,042 in 2010.