In response to a string of tragic intercity bus accidents this year, "Sudden Death Overtime," a new report highlighting driver fatigue as the single largest cause of these fatal bus crashes, was released by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU). The ATU also renewed their call for Congress to address driver fatigue as part of the bus safety legislation currently under consideration in Washington, D.C.
According to the report, the National Transportation Safety Board estimates that 36 percent of motorcoach crash fatalities over the past decade have been due to driver fatigue. It is the number one cause of fatal accidents, far above road conditions (2 percent) or inattention (6 percent).
"Hundreds of intercity bus companies — usually tiny operations that have only a few buses — get away with paying their bus drivers criminally low wages," said International President of the ATU Lawrence J. Hanley. "As a result, bus drivers are being forced to work 100 hours a week or more, often balancing two or three jobs, just to make a living. The unsuspecting customers get on these buses and disaster can strike."
In response to the series of fatal bus crashes this year, Congress introduced The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2011, led in the Senate by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) in the House. While the bill makes some long-overdue and important changes to regulations in the industry, it does not include a specific proposal to address driver fatigue.
"At the end of the day, technical fixes like seatbelts and driver training — while incredibly important — won't prevent crashes so long as drivers aren't stopped from getting behind the wheel on zero sleep," said Hanley. "Any serious proposal to clean up the discount bus industry unequivocally has to include a solution for driver fatigue."
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 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. 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.