With the motorcoach travel season ready to heat up, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released its SaferBus iPhone/iPad application, giving potential clients the ability to review a bus company’s safety record before booking.

“What it’s going to do is give the smart phone-using public another way to find out information about the safety commitment of motorcoach companies,” said Dan Ronan, sr. director of communications, media and marketing at the American Bus Association (ABA). “We think it’s a good idea.”

SaferBus provides access to safety records on approximately 6,000 interstate commercial passenger carriers operating in the U.S., which includes privately operated motorcoach, school bus and tour bus companies.

“The SaferBus app retrieves data directly from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s website and places a bus company’s safety record in the palm of your hand,” said Shashunga Clayton the FMCSA’s acting deputy director of communications.

To start a search, users enter the official business name of the bus company or the company’s U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) registration number. The public may also search for a bus company at http://safer.fmcsa.dot.gov/CompanySnapshot.aspx.

Once a user locates the coach company, they will be able to view:

  • Bus Company Safety Record: The app gives access to up to 24 months of a bus company’s safety performance record, including its performance in five safety-critical areas: unsafe driving, fatigued driving, driver fitness, controlled substances/alcohol, and vehicle maintenance. Percentiles in any area can range between 0 (best) and 100 (worst), and are based on the company’s compliance with federal safety standards.
  • Bus Company Operating Authority: In addition to providing a bus company’s safety record, the app will also notify users if that company is an illegal bus company that has been shut down by FMCSA with this language: “NOT ALLOWED TO OPERATE.” Bus riders should not use interstate bus companies that do not have valid U.S. DOT operating authority.
  • Report a Bus Safety Complaint: SaferBus links to FMCSA’s National Consumer Complaint Database, enabling users to instantly submit any bus safety-related concern. The public may also call FMCSA’s safety hotline number and should always call 911 in case of a safety emergency.

So far, industry feedback on the new app has been positive.

“[The United Motorcoach Association (UMA)] is excited about FMCSA’s SaferBus app and we fully support it; it is a good first step toward raising consumers’ safety awareness,” said Eric Elliot, GM of the UMA’s BusRates.com.

Clayton reported that one operator, who is proud of their company’s safety record, said he plans to use the app to market his company against the competition.

“Carriers now know that passengers have a quick and easy way to access their safety performance, and these companies should want to ensure the safety information is accurate and positive,” said Clayton on how the app may impact the industry. “Companies with a poor performance should see this as an opportunity to take corrective actions to improve their safety record.”

To Clayton’s point, the ABA’s Ronan said the association continues to tell its members to keep an eye on the issues reported on their record.
“We always tell them to keep an eye on them, check them regularly, and if there are any issues or inaccuracies, question and/or dispute them right away,” he said.

The release of the SaferBus app is just the latest step in the FMCSA’s quest to make motorcoach travel safer.

Over the last couple of years, the FMCSA has significantly stepped up its safety enforcement of motorcoaches and other commercial passenger carriers, including an increase of out-of-service orders, from 36 in 2008 to 54 in 2011, to remove unsafe passenger carriers from the road.

Roadside safety enforcement of passenger carriers has also steadily increased. During FMCSA’s 2011 National Passenger Carrier Safety Strike Force in September, federal, state and local police carried out more than 8,300 safety inspections of motorcoaches, tour buses, school buses and other passenger carriers nationwide. The two-week inspection sweep removed 902 unsafe vehicles or drivers from roadways around the nation. FMCSA will carry out its 2012 National Passenger Carrier Safety Strike Force later this year, according to Clayton.