WASHINGTON, D.C.— Following two deadly tour bus crashes that claimed six lives in Virginia and Washington state last week, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today called for swift implementation of safety standards aimed at preventing driver fatigue. During a news conference in Cleveland, Brown joined tour bus drivers at a Greyhound Station to unveil a letter to the Department of Transportation that requests it ensure all tour bus carriers follow driver safety standards. Brown was also joined by Pam and Tom Bryan, who lost their nephew David in the Bluffton University crash in March 2007.
"How many more lives will be lost until our country gets serious about tour bus safety? We need to ensure that driver fatigue doesn’t get in the way of passenger safety,” Brown said. “We need to ensure that all tour bus carriers follow driver safety standards to prevent driver fatigue. And we need to ensure that the tour buses they drive employ commonsense technology that reduces fatalities and injuries.”
Driver fatigue is the root cause of 37 percent of all accidents investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board. 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. Brown’s letter, also signed by Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Patty Murray (D-WA) urges the DOT to accelerate efforts to promptly remove unsafe motorcoach carriers from our roads, ensure driver preparedness, and protect passenger safety.
Brown is the lead sponsor of the bipartisan Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act, comprehensive tour bus safety legislation aimed at reducing the number of tour bus crashes and related fatalities. Brown first introduced the legislation – which was passed unanimously by a key Senate panel last month 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. Also joining Brown today were Tom and Pam Bryan of Vermillion. The Bryans lost their nephew, David in the Bluffton University crash in March 2007.
In March 2011, Brown testified before the Senate Commerce Committee at a hearing entitled: ‘Ensuring the Safety of Our Nation's Motorcoach Passengers.” Brown was joined at the hearing by John and Joy Betts, who lost their son David in the Bluffton University crash. The bill was adopted unanimously by the Commerce Committee on May 5.
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, minimal 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.
Brown’s bill, which he introduced alongside Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) would also address driver safety standards. The bill would increase and expand safety requirements for motorcoach drivers and companies. It would ensure that drives undergo drug and alcohol testing and maintain a valid commercial driver’s license and would establish new minimum requirements for drivers including more classroom and behind the wheel training. It would also give the DOT new authority to deny, suspend or revoke operator registration, ensure that the carrier complies with hour of service rules, and implement safety management programs to ensure that vehicles are running properly. The bill would periodic safety reviews of motorcoach operators.