Larry Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), called on Congress to address driver fatigue in their current efforts to reform the intercity bus industry. Hanley's call comes after the fatal tour bus crash in central Virginia early Tuesday morning — the fourth of such accidents in this spring alone.
The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2011 has been introduced in the Senate by Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) in the House. Neither version of the bill includes specific proposals to address driver fatigue, the issue immediately credited with causing the Virginia crash and playing a role in many others.
"With its focus on seat belts, vehicle structural integrity and keeping unsafe bus owners out of business, this bill is a well-intentioned piece of legislation that contains many overdue provisions," said Hanley. "Unfortunately, the bill still leaves passengers vulnerable because it ignores the key issue at the heart of intercity bus crashes: fatigue.
"Common sense tells us that while maintaining the structural integrity of a bus is critically important, if a 40,000-pound vehicle traveling at high rate of speed overturns and smashes into a bridge or falls over a cliff, the lives of the occupants are going to be in grave danger, even if they are strapped in and the vehicle has the strength of a tank," Hanley continued. "The real problem here is that bus drivers are falling asleep at the wheel because they work grueling hours at abysmally low wages."
Hanley and the ATU are calling on Congress to include an amendment to the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2011 that would ensure that the overtime provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are applied to bus drivers for these companies. Currently, intercity bus drivers are exempt from these provisions and many are forced to work second jobs during their so-called "rest period" just to make ends meet, according to the ATU.
Under the ATU's proposed reforms, drivers would get paid fairly for the work they put in above 40 hours per week, making them less inclined to work other jobs while pushing their bodies to the limit.