Following Deadly Tour Bus Crashes, Senators Call for Immediate Implementation of Strcter Driver Safety Requirements to Prevent Driver Fatigue

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Following deadly tour bus crashes that claimed dozens of lives in New York, Virginia and Washington state this year, a group of six senators wrote to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calling for swift implementation of safety standards aimed at preventing driver fatigue.

“The pattern of enforcement by DOT has been uneven, inconsistent and ineffective,” the senators wrote. “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.

The letter, signed by U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), 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.

Driver fatigue is the root cause of 37 percent of all accidents investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.  Preliminary reports indicate that last week’s 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 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 and injuries. 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. 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 new companies are operating by the book and that drivers have 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 ensure periodic safety reviews of motorcoach operators.

Full text of the letter is below.

June 5, 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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