Brown Applauds Increased Enforcement From Obama Administration Aimed At Protecting Tour Bus Passengers

FMCSA Stepped Up Regulation to Force Unsafe Carriers Off the Road. With Improved Federal Engagement, Brown Calls for Final Passage of Bipartisan, Industry-Supported, Tour Bus Safety Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With today’s news of increased U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) enforcement to take unsafe tour bus operators off the road, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) applauded the improved engagement and called for swift passage of comprehensive tour bus safety legislation aimed at reducing the number of tour bus crashes and related fatalities. In June 2011, Brown joined a group of senators calling on DOT Sec. Ray LaHood to accelerate efforts to remove unsafe tour bus carriers from our roads, ensure driver preparedness, and to protect passenger safety.

“Tour bus crashes over the last decade have not just been deadly, they’ve been preventable,” Brown said. “But that’s why we need cooperation on all levels to ensure the safety of passengers and other drivers. Last week’s endorsement of the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act by Greyhound coupled with today’s news of increased enforcement by FMCSA signals a renewed seriousness in addressing the major safety shortfalls that have plagued many tour bus operations for too long.”

The DOT announced today that in the last two years, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has issued as many imminent hazard orders placing unsafe bus and truck companies out of service as in the previous 10 years combined. Although Brown applauded the recent crackdown on unsafe carriers through surprise inspections, full compliance reviews, and enforcement actions, he also called for increased Federal action.

Last week, Brown was joined by Greyhound CEO, David Leach, who announced his company’s support for the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2011. This bipartisan legislation was introduced by Sens. Brown and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX).

Brown first introduced the legislation—which was passed unanimously by a key Senate panel in May and awaits final passage by the full Senate—following a 2007 crash of a tour bus carrying 33 Bluffton University baseball players that claimed seven lives. During last week’s press conference, Brown was joined by John and Joy Betts, of Bryan, Ohio. Their son David, a Bluffton University student, died in the crash.

Brown and Hutchison have introduced the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act in the previous two Congresses. U.S. Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) has introduced a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. Last congress, the bill unanimously passed out of committee with broad bipartisan support but was held up on the floor by a single senator, never receiving a full Senate vote.

The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act is based on National Transportation Safety Board recommendations—some of which were first proposed in 1968. The bill would require:

  • Safety belts and stronger seating systems to ensure occupants stay in their seats in a crash.
  • Improved commercial driver training. Currently, no training is required by Federal regulation.
  • Anti-ejection glazing windows to prevent passengers from being easily thrown outside the motorcoach.
  • Strong, crush-resistant roofs that can withstand rollovers.
  • Improved protection against fires by reducing flammability of the motorcoach interior, and better training for operators in the case of fire.
  • A National Commercial Motor Vehicle Medical Registry to ensure that only medically qualified examiners conduct physical examinations of drivers and a medical certificate process to ensure that all certificates are valid and no unqualified operator is allowed to drive.
  • Strengthened motorcoach vehicle safety inspections, including roadside inspections, safety audits, and state and motor carrier programs for identifying vehicle defects.
  • Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs) with real-time capabilities to track precise vehicle location that cannot be tampered with by the driver.

Full text of the letter is below.

June 6, 2011


The Honorable Ray LaHood

Secretary

U.S. Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE

Washington, DC 20590

Dear Secretary LaHood:

The last week has seen the needless deaths of six people and serious injuries sustained by passengers in separate motorcoach crashes in Virginia and Washington.  While we appreciate the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) recent enhanced enforcement efforts to ensure safety compliance, these two crashes clearly indicate more is needed.  We write today to urge that your Department accelerate efforts to promptly remove unsafe motorcoach carriers from our roads, ensure driver preparedness, and protect passenger safety.

Preliminary reports indicate that the recent Sky Express bus crash in Virginia was caused by two key factors: driver fatigue, and the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) decision to give this clearly unsafe carrier a last minute reprieve from closure despite a pattern of safety failures and a determination that the carrier’s safety record is unsatisfactory.  In light of the four fatalities and numerous injuries caused by the crash, it is apparent that the pattern of enforcement by DOT has been uneven, inconsistent and ineffective.  The FMCSA failed to enforce its statutory authority to place the carrier out of service. In that regard, as the DOT goes forward, we would like to know what steps will be taken to shorten the timeframe in which operators come into compliance with safety standards.             

As indicated in DOT’s Motorcoach Safety Action Plan, the Department has a clear understanding of the role driver fatigue plays in motorcoach crashes.  As you know, data indicates that fatigue is the root cause of 37% of all accidents investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.  Since the announcement of the action plan, what fatigue-related research has been conducted?  With driver fatigue playing a role in more than one-third of crashes, has the Department considered extending the minimum off-duty period for motorcoach drivers?

In recent years, we have been working diligently to improve motorcoach safety standards for the millions of passengers who use this affordable and convenient mode of transportation in our country.  We appreciate the work DOT has undertaken to complement the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act, which the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation recently passed unanimously.  However, in 2011 there have already been at least ten motorcoach crashes resulting in more than 20 fatalities and over 130 injuries—including 15 deaths in a single tragic crash earlier this year in New York.  These crashes indicate the urgency in addressing these critical safety deficiencies—improving occupant protection with currently available vehicle safety technology as well as upgrading driver and operator oversight and regulations.

The failure of a driver and company to operate safely does not need to result in occupant deaths and injuries. We appreciate your concern on these issues and look forward to your response.  

Sincerely,

 

                                              

Sherrod Brown                           Jim Webb                   

United States Senator                 United States Senator


Mark Warner                             Charles Schumer            

United States Senator                 United States Senator

          

Kirsten Gillibrand                       Patty Murray

United States Senator                 United States Senator  

 

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