MAP-21 Impacts Motorcoach Safety, Planning Role

Posted on September 24, 2012 by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

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Multi-tiered safety approach
MAP-21 also creates a multi-tiered approach toward improving the safety of motorcoaches, both from the inside and the outside.

To start, the bill requires that all carriers applying for operating authority must prove an understanding of federal rules by completing a written examination. Although the “Pre-Authorization Safety Audit” was successfully defeated, new entrants are also required to undergo a safety audit within 120 days of receiving operating authority.

The new bill also prohibits a motor carrier applicant from applying for new authority for three years if they are found to have been previously been declared unfit. It further allows the Secretary of Transportation to require a registration update within 30 days if a carrier changes addresses, contact information, officers, process agents or other essential information.

“MAP-21 does good to limit the exposure of new or reincarnated commercial carriers,” says Stancil. “The written proficiency exam and safety fitness exam are good examples of trying to put safeguards in place before a potential rogue operator can operate for an extended period of time.”

Penalties for operating an unfit passenger coach company have been boosted to $25,000 for each violation. The bill also raises the penalties for evasion of regulations and opens subsequent violations to criminal prosecution. Additionally, MAP-21 authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to take more drastic measures, including impounding the entire fleet, for repeat offenders.

“One of the things that we really like is that this does a good job of getting to carriers that operate at a very low level of safety — the repeat offenders, the troublemakers, the folks that never should have been in the business in the first place,” says Dan Ronan, sr. director of communications for the ABA. “The bill also allows the government to seize motorcoaches from companies that have been declared an imminent hazard. They can actually put the buses behind a fence and lock them up.”

The bill also requires states that place a passenger carrier out of service to provide reasonable and secure temporary shelter and accommodations for passengers in transit. Regulations promulgated under this section must include the consideration of public safety, protection of passengers and cargo, inconvenience to passengers and security of the vehicle.

As for the safety of the actual motorcoaches, MAP-21 states that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) must create regulations requiring seat belts to be installed in motorcoaches at each designated seat not later than one year from the bill’s passage, with the rule being put into effect two years from then. The industry is currently waiting for seat belt rulemaking that was already set to be unveiled some time this year.

“It really gives NHTSA the time to get the job done,” says Parra. “There is adequate time, as well as a real emphasis on research, without being terribly prescriptive.”

As for retrofitting motorcoaches, NHTSA will assess the feasibility, benefits and costs on the application of the seat belts or anti-ejection countermeasures provision to existing motorcoaches. NHTSA must report to Congress on the assessment in two years.

Additionally, in no later than two years, MAP-21 says the U.S. DOT must prescribe regulations that address roof strength and crush resistance, and further directs U.S. DOT to consider anti-ejection safety countermeasures (window glazing), rollover crash avoidance, tire pressure monitoring systems and tire performance standards.

“It is good that MAP-21 has finally given a defined timetable for some of the ‘Big Issues,’ including seat belts and roof strength,” says Stancil. “We have been discussing these issues for many years, and our industry is ready to move forward and show our customers and passengers that we support improved safety standards.”

Finally, MAP-21 directs the U.S. DOT to ensure research programs are carried out concurrently and grants authority for it to combine rulemakings into a single rulemaking encompassing all aspects. Considerations must include whether each added aspect contributes to safety; benefits of the seat belt rulemaking; and avoiding duplicative benefits, costs and countermeasures.

“I am always in favor of regulations that will truly make our industry safer, as long as the regulation was well thought out, properly implemented and will truly make a positive impact on the issues that drove the need for the regulation to begin with,” says Wigley. “I am not a manufacturer, but think they are already aware of these pending issues and have been working on them already, so a two-year window seems appropriate.”

Other safety measures include developing standards for fire prevention and mitigation and the establishment of the National Drug and Alcohol Test Results Clearinghouse.

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