Senate Commerce Committee, on Which Hutchison Serves as Ranking Member, Holds Hearing on the Safety of our Nation’s Motorcoach Passengers
WASHINGTON, DC – Following deadly tour bus crashes in the northeast that claimed 17 lives in the past month alone, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) today called for the swift passage of bipartisan legislation to strengthen tour bus safety and improve driver training. 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.
“This month, our nation watched in horror as tour bus crashes claimed the lives of more than a dozen Americans, and here in Ohio, we live daily with the memory of seven lives that were cut short after a motorcoach carrying Bluffton University baseball players crashed in Atlanta,” Sen. Brown said. “This is about common sense safety measures that can and should be adopted by tour bus companies. The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act is based on national transportation safety recommendations that have languished for too long. Improvements to tour buses – like seatbelts, fire extinguishers, increased driver training, and stronger windows –are neither exotic nor complicated. But since they are not required, they have not been installed in American tour buses, jeopardizing the safety of millions of American passengers each year. Action on this bill is long overdue.”
“The federal government has an important and necessary role to play when it comes to promoting interstate transportation safety. The recent spate of deadly bus crashes once again brings the urgent need to improve motorcoach safety to our attention,” Sen. Hutchison said. “The commonsense legislation Senator Brown and I have reintroduced will dramatically increase the safety of buses to reduce preventable tragedies. Congress must not wait for another deadly bus accident before we pass comprehensive bus safety legislation.”
“The bus industry has grossly exaggerated the cost of putting these safety improvements in their vehicles that would save precious lives and reduce injuries each year,” Joan Claybrook, former Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), said.
"Every year that enactment of this bill is delayed, millions of children and adults are at risk of death and injury in a serious motorcoach crash," said Jackie Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. "It is time for Congress to direct federal agency action to keep unsafe motorcoach operators off our roads, and provide basic safety systems to protect passengers in a crash. The American public should not be treated as second class citizens just because they choose to travel by motorcoach rather than by plane or car."
“This bill will prevent injuries and save lives. Four years is long enough to wait for the passage of such critical but straight-forward bill that needs to be enacted now,” John Betts, who lost his son David in the Bluffton University crash, said. “We need to get bad operators off the road, but it’s not enough to ensure passenger safety in an accident. If you or your loved one is on that bus, you want to know that the vehicle is safe enough to withstand a crash. This bill will help ensure that.”
Brown and Hutchison released data on the injuries and fatalities associated with recent tour bus crashes. From 1998-2009, there have been 409 fatal crashes in the U.S.
This afternoon, the Senate Committee of Commerce, Science, and Transportation—on which Hutchison serves as Ranking Member—will examine the legislation. Brown will testify before the committee at a hearing entitled: ‘Ensuring the Safety of Our Nation's Motorcoach Passengers.”
Brown and Hutchison’s Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act would reduce the number of motorcoach crashes and related fatalities. Brown and Hutchison first introduced the legislation following a 2007 crash of a tour bus carrying 33 Bluffton University baseball players that claimed seven lives. Last congress, the bill unanimously passed out of committee with broad bipartisan support but was held up on the floor, never receiving a full Senate vote.
Brown and Hutchison’s Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act is based on National Transportation Safety Board recommendations—some of which were first proposed in 1968. The bill would require:
Below is the full text of Sen. Brown’s testimony as prepared for delivery.
Motorcoach accident fatalities in both our states highlighted the need for common-sense safety measures that protect both passengers and motorists.
These tragic, yet seemingly preventable fatalities have devastated families and communities, turning parents and friends into advocates and activists for safer vehicles and safer roads.
Two Ohioans are here today who can identify with the pain of losing a child in a motorcoach accident – and turning their grief into action.
I would like to thank and recognize John and Joy Betts from Bryan, Ohio who are in attendance today.
The Betts’ lost their son David, a member of the Bluffton University baseball team, on March 2, 2007.
Bluffton University is a small college in Bluffton, Ohio, near I-75 in Allen and Hancock counties in the Northwest part of the state.
David’s baseball team was on its way to Florida for spring training when their bus lost control on a poorly marked exit ramp outside Atlanta.
The bus toppled from an overpass.
Like the majority of fatal motorcoach accidents, when the bus rolled over, the passengers were ejected from their seats and thrown through the bus windows.
Along with David, six others were killed and dozens were injured.
The tragedy rocked a small town but also brought national attention to the need for long, overdue safety improvements to America’s motorcoaches.
Since that day four years ago, the Bluffton families have been courageous and vocal advocates in raising awareness of motorcoach safety and demanding Congressional action.
The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) final report from the Bluffton motorcoach accident – released almost three years ago – echoed recommendations the NTSB has been urging for years.
In the 110th, 111th, and now the 112th Congress, Senator Hutchison and I have introduced the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act, which includes many of the NTSB’s “Most Wanted” safety improvements.
Specifically, the Act would address many of the major safety shortfalls from the Bluffton accident, such as:
Incredibly, many of these recommendations – including seatbelts, better motor-carrier oversight, and increased fire safety – have languished in legislative uncertainty for decades.
These safety measures are neither exotic nor complicated. They are not new, either. They are common-sense safety features that have been – and are – widely used across Europe and Australia.
But since they are not required by law, they have not been installed in most American motorcoaches.
Instead of saving lives, the public safety remains at risk.
As a father, it is disturbing to know that students are still traveling in motorcoaches without even the option of buckling up.
As a Senator, it is unacceptable that our laws – or lack of them – have made our vehicles and roads less safe for students, families, and anyone traveling our nation’s roads.
This month has seen yet another rash of fatal motorcoach accidents– as heartbroken families and communities in New Jersey and New York know all too well.
Opponents of stricter motorcoach safety standards will tell you that this isn’t a motorcoach problem; they would tell you that we have a problem with rogue bus companies and bad drivers.
Certainly, we must ensure drivers are fit to be behind the wheel and that bus carriers are playing by the rules—which our bill addresses.
But we simply cannot look the other way and reject the idea that improving the safety of our motorcoaches is unnecessary – or fiscally imprudent.
John Betts has said, “It is necessary through our current regulations to get bad operators off the road. However it is not sufficient as it does nothing to ensure safety once the crash has occurred.”
I couldn’t agree more. We can get bad operators off the road. But it’s not enough to ensure passenger safety in the tragic event of an accident.
If the technology to save lives and reduce injury in motorcoach accidents exists, we must put that technology to use.
As motorcoach travel increases – and it has as gas prices have risen and airline travel has become more expensive – we need these new safety standards to ensure the safety of every rider and driver on the road.
The number of serious accidents and tragic deaths will, sadly, only increase if we do not take action.
In the last three Congress’s, Senator Hutchison and I have introduced the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act.
We do so because it’s the right thing to do. And we do so because people like the Betts’ have made it the easy thing to do.
Out of their grief, they have asked their government to step in and protect Americans families from the heartbreak they and the Bluffton community experienced.
They have asked their government to pass a law that can save lives and keep our roads more secure.
I look forward to future collaboration with the Committee and our colleagues in the Senate to pass this bill into law and to finally improve motorcoach safety in our nation.